In recent weeks we have been encouraged to bring updates about the authorities in several countries making decisions and taking action that will benefit Christian minorities.
This included a welcome decision from the Supreme Court of Pakistan to grant bail to three Christians accused of “blasphemy”, alongside a lengthy legal decision affirming that preaching Christianity is in no way a criminal offence.
In India we were pleased to report a Supreme Court order for eight Indian states to submit evidence about anti-Christian persecution. This followed a legal opinion from the Delhi High Court, published in June, that conversion from one religion to another is entirely legal.
In similar vein, it was encouraging to note the support given by Indonesia’s federal government to Christians in the province of Banten who are applying for a permit from their local officials to construct a new church building.
Unfortunately the permit has not been granted by the local authorities.
Yaqut Cholil Qoumas, Indonesian Minister of Religious Affairs, expressed his sympathy that church leaders had applied for such a permit several times, “only to have their request turned down by local authorities even though all administrative requirements have been met”. He added that he would do all he could to uphold the Christians’ right to freedom of worship.
Wawan Djunaedi, head of the government’s Religious Harmony Centre, was also disappointed. “Since April several friendly attempts have been made by my office to address the issue, but there has been no fruitful outcome so far.”
While it is the case that legal difficulties are created by a 1975 agreement that prevents the building of churches in the locality, it is also possible that anti-Christian prejudice has played a part in the decision to deny the building permit, as in recent years Indonesia has seen a rise in hard-line Islamic ideology.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo has taken steps to combat Islamism, including dissolving two hard-line Islamic organisations (Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia and the Islamic Defenders Front). In March 2021 he appointed a Christian as the new National Police Chief, the first time that a member of a religious minority has held the post in nearly 50 years.
Yaqut, the minister of Religious Affairs, was appointed by President Joko in December 2020, promising to combat “Islamic populism”.
We should give thanks that Indonesia’s federal government is taking these matters seriously, and pray earnestly for our brothers and sisters who are facing legal obstacles and discrimination at a local level.