Apr 2014

Several non-governmental organizations (NGOs), led by The Wahid Institute, have supported the efforts of the congregation of the Indonesian Christian Church (GKI) Yasmin in Bogor, West Java, to urge the incoming mayor of the city, Bima Arya Sugiarto, to obey the Supreme Court ruling to reopen the church.

Bima and elected deputy Usman Hariman will officially take office on April 7.

Sinta Nuriyah Wahid, interfaith activist and widow of former president Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, said that the 1945 Constitution gave every Indonesian the basic right to practice their religion.

“We have seen that GKI Yasmin faced discrimination and persecution, so we urge every leader, including the Bogor mayor [elect], to abide by the law,” she said during a press conference at the Wahid Institute in Central Jakarta on Thursday.

Outgoing mayor Diani Budiarto, supported by a group of local people, sealed GKI Yasmin in 2010 and defied a Supreme Court ruling ordering Diani to reopen the church.

The Supreme Court ruling triggered intolerant groups to force the church’s congregation to conduct services in the churchyard and on the street in front of the building.

Diani ignored the order, also defying solutions brokered by the Indonesian Ombudsman, the National Defense Council and the Presidential Advisory Board, which suggested the establishment of another house of worship, such as a mosque, adjacent to the church.

During the press conference at The Wahid Institute, Bona Sigalingging, spokesman for GKI Yasmin, said that his congregation would forward a letter — which has been signed and supported by several NGOs — to Bima on Friday, to encourage him to take an active role in resolving the case.

Bona said that Bogor needed a mayor who was able to demonstrate good leadership skills and did not violate constitutional rulings.

“Bima has a crucial role now to set a benchmark of good governance, in terms of upholding religious freedom,” he said.

The NGOs hoped that the new mayor would be firm in not accommodating intolerant groups, so that his decision could set a positive precedent for similar cases in other regions across the country.

Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy head for the Setara Institute, one of the NGOs involved, said that solving the issue would test Bima’s capabilities as a mayor and as a decisive leader.

“The question is, will he become a man of history? Or will he merely become a lesser man, accommodating political reality?” Bonar said. “The letter that GKI Yasmin and other NGOs are sending him aims to persuade him to handle the situation in a dignified manner,” he added.

Febi Yonesta, director of Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta), said that the government had an obligation to ensure the supremacy of the law. “The social cost will be bigger if nobody abides by the law and the government is weak,” he said.

Bima told The Jakarta Post on Thursday that resolving the GKI Yasmin case would be one of his priorities as mayor after he took office on Monday.

“The GKI Yasmin case will be one of my priorities when I take the mayoral office. I aim to tackle the problem by facilitating an open dialogue between the church and the opposing residents, in order to come up with a fair solution,” he said.

Bima added that the largest obstacle in resolving the issue was the differing perceptions of the case among all parties involved.

Source: The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Fri, April 04 2014, 9:23 AM