SURABAYA, Indonesia —A machete-wielding Muslim threatened to kill members of a house church in Indonesia as he and family members broke up a worship service last Tuesday, sources said.
In West Sumatra Province, the Sola Gratia congregation of Bethel Indonesia Church (Gereja Bethel Indonesia, or GBI) was meeting on the evening of Aug. 29 in a rented house in Jalan Banuaran, Banuaran Nan XX village, Lubuk Begalung Sub-District, in Padang, when a Muslim woman broke the home’s windows with stones and told those inside to stop worshiping, the church pastor said.
Pastor Hiatani Ziduhu Hia told outlet radarsumbar.com that the woman claimed she was the owner of the house in the attack at about 8:35 p.m.
Later the woman’s husband came to the house with a machete, accompanied by another man with a wooden club. Brandishing the machete, the Muslim shouted at the congregation that he was going to cut their throats into pieces and told them to stop worshiping, Pastor Hiatani reportedly said.
“We continued to pray,” the pastor told radarsumbar.com., adding that the husband later returned and continued demanding that they cease worship.
“We stayed calm, trying to explain the situation to them,” Pastor Hiatani said. “But they didn’t pay attention to us.”
The woman, later identified as a relative of the landlord, claimed that the church could not worship in “her home,” the pastor said.
“We know that the owner of the house is not her, because we pay someone else,” Pastor Hiatani said. “Those who receive our money also know that we occasionally use the place for worship. The head of the neighborhood already knows about our activities. As for the perpetrators, we know that they are the relatives of the house owners, not the house owner.”
The house tenant, Juni Anton Zai, told BBC News Indonesia that 20 congregation members were holding a worship service when they heard the screaming woman approach from the backyard and break the windows.
“We were shocked, and our worship was dismissed,” Juni told BBC News. “My son was shocked. The mother screamed, and we canceled our worship.”
He and the rest of the congregation ran out of the house, Juni said. Later the woman, her husband and their two younger siblings returned, with the husband telling them that they could not worship there because it was “our parents’ house,” he said.
Juni offered to sit down and discuss the matter calmly, but they refused, he said.
“Instead of having a nice talk, they threatened us,” Juni said. “His younger brother was also carrying a machete; he scared us. After that, his younger brother came. He came bringing a wooden club. He wanted to hit my little brother, who was sitting on the motorbike.”
In a video of the attack uploaded onto social media on Aug. 30, the assailants claim that they were entitled to the house and had a right to know the tenants’ activities, according to Kompass.com.
Pastor Hiatani said it was the first disruption of a church service at the venue, and that they reported it to Padang Police.
Juni’s attorney, Yutiasa Fakho, head of the Community Legal Defence Team, said he told police on Sept. 1 that the assailants had committed criminal acts, including threats with sharp weapons, vandalism, use of sharp weapons and human rights violations.
He asked police to prosecute, but officers dismissed it as “just a misunderstanding” over “neighborhood ethics” and sent the husband home, claiming that he was “suffering from mental disorders,” according to BBC.com.
The West Sumatra Inter-Religious Harmony Forum (Forum Komunikasi Umat Beragama, or FKUB) agreed with police and suggested a solution “with local wisdom.”
By contrast, the executive director of human rights think-tank the Setara Institute, Halili Hasan, said authorities and the FKUB had “ignored” justice and that the Christians’ right to freedom of worship had been violated, according to BBC News Indonesia.
“The most dangerous thing is, if law enforcement does not occur, it means there is neglect,” Halili reportedly said. “This incident will happen again if there is no fair law enforcement.”
Padang city is the third most intolerant city in Indonesia, according to a 2022 Setara Institute report.
The Communion of Christian Churches (Persatuan Gereja Indonesia, or PGI) condemned the attack.
Pastor Henrek Lekra, executive secretary of PGI’s Justice and Peace unit, said the group strongly condemned “the anarchist actions in disbanding Christian family worship which has led to death threats,” and that “actions like this are contrary to the mandate of the Constitution and insult the values and teachings of any religion that prioritizes love, justice, and peace.”
The PGI called on police to immediately take firm action against the “perpetrator who made a vulgar threat of death to stop the worship, so that it does not set a bad precedent in the future and spread unrest in society.” The group also called for deliberation and dialogue along with prosecution of criminal acts.
“The mediation was carried out by the security forces, and the element of the local government should not put pressure on the victim, which causes the victim to experience multiple layers of intimidation,” Lekra said in a press statement.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the 2023 International Sufi Congress in Pekalongan, Central Java, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said that although harmony in diversity continues to be promoted, cases of intolerance are still found in Indonesia, according to Bloomberg Technoz.com.
“There are still several cases of intolerance,” Widodo said in Pekalongan, Central Java on Aug. 29. “This is something we can pay attention to so that peace can be maintained in Indonesia and the world.”
Indonesia ranked 33rd on the Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. Indonesian society has adopted a more conservative Islamic character, and churches involved in evangelistic outreach are at risk of being targeted by Islamic extremist groups, according to Open Doors’ WWL report.
“If a church is seen to be preaching and spreading the gospel, they soon run into opposition from Islamic extremist groups, especially in rural areas,” the report noted. “In some regions of Indonesia, non-traditional churches struggle to get permission for church buildings, with the authorities often ignoring their paperwork.”
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