Iran: Monuments destroyed in bid to wipe out Christian heritage *Indonesia: Islamists block persecuted church from holding service

April 30, 2012 by  
Filed under Asia, Indonesia, Iran, newsletter-asia, Persecution

Iran, April 24, 2012: Historical Christian monuments in Iran are being destroyed or allowed to fall into a state of decay in what appears to be an attempt by the authorities to wipe out the country’s Christian heritage.

Churches and Christian cemeteries are particularly vulnerable, as experts warn that pre-Islamic historical monuments are at greater risk than ever before.

Earlier this month, Iranian Christian news agency Mohabat News reported that a Christian cemetery, which was over 200 years old, in the Ghal’e Dokhtar area of Kerman province had been completely demolished without the permission of its owners.

Mohammad Mehdi Afzali of the Cultural Heritage organisation of Kerman was quoted as saying:

Destruction of this cemetery was conducted as part of a project by the municipality and Cultural Heritage organisation to release lands around Ghal’e Dokhtar and Ghal’e Ardeshir.

This followed the flattening of the Church of St Andrew, also in Kerman, last year. It was pulled down by bulldozers overnight despite having been registered as a national monument in March 2009, a status that required the 60-year-old building to be protected and restored. The church had previously been converted into an office for a taxi service.
The Church of Haftvan, in Salmas county, has been repeatedly attacked and is in danger of collapse. It was registered as a national monument in 2002 but has been left to decay; plants have grown into the building, causing the walls to crack. Trespassers have vandalised the building, and the yard in front of it has been dug up in search of jewels and antiques; this has caused soil erosion, weakening the walls of the church.
A Christian from Salmas said:
The Islamic Republic is practically destroying monuments of Christians. It is not Haftvan alone; the church of Ashnak village has become the same or even worse because of some trespassers who are actually officials of the regime… The laws of the Islamic country do nothing to prevent the destruction of these monuments.

Large crosses on gravestones at a Christian cemetery in Bushehr that dates back to the mid-nineteenth century have been removed, and what remains of the site is overgrown and neglected.

Mohabat News said:
It seems that Islamic Republic officials, unsuccessful in stopping the growth of Christianity among the people by pressuring them, arresting them and banning Christian converts from attending church services, want to destroy historical Christian monuments to totally wipe the Christian heritage from the face of Iran.

– barnabas team

Indonesia: Islamists block persecuted church from holding service


Indonesia, April 24, 2012: Another Indonesian church whose building has been unlawfully sealed off by the authorities was met with violent opposition from Islamists as it attempted to stage an outdoor service.

The Filadelfia congregation of the Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP) in Bekasi has been unable to use the building on the land it bought in 2007. The Christians worshipped in a semi-permanent building while waiting for a permit from the Bekasi government. Despite their meeting all the requirements for one, a permit was not issued, and on 31 December 2009, the church was banned from using the site; the building was sealed off the following month.

HKBP took the case to the Supreme Court, which ruled in their favour. Its decision is however, yet to be implemented.

Last Sunday (15 April), the congregation was met with violent opposition as they tried to hold a service on the street in front of their sealed-off church building. Muslim residents blocked them from the site, and the local authorities had to intervene.

Overwhelmed by the mob, officials told the Christians to hold their service at the local sub-district office – around five kilometres away – but they refused. As they persisted with the service, it was disrupted by the Muslim opponents, who played loud music and rode a motorcycle through the congregation.

Church leader, the Rev. Palti Panjaitan, insisted it was the church’s right to use the building. He was threatened by one of the mob, who shouted, “Palti Panjaitan, you’re dead if you try coming back!”

HKBP’s battle with the authorities and local Muslims has many parallels with the plight of GKI Yasmin Church, whose building in Bogor, West Java, has been illegally sealed off by the authorities, in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling that it should re-open.

More than 200 Christians from the two churches, along with human rights activists and political representatives, staged a peaceful demonstration in front of the Presidential Palace in Jakarta on 15 April. They decried the expropriation of places of worship and called for religious freedom to be upheld, denouncing violations by Islamist groups and the failure of the authorities, including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, to implement the law.

Activists said that the president was afraid of “alienating” the Islamic fringe in case he lost support and votes.

GKI, which has been holding services on the street in front of its church building since 2008, has now been forced to meet in secret for the safety of the congregation.

Church spokesman Bona Sigalingging said:

We are constantly having to change our location because our existence appears to be unwanted, and we have to hide so that we are not intimidated by intolerant groups… We had hoped for help from the police, but after many attacks on members of the congregation, we see that the police are also involved in this.

In a visit to Indonesia earlier this month, British Prime Minister David Cameron praised the country as an example of religious tolerance. He said:

What Indonesia shows is that in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, it is possible to reject this extremist threat and prove that democracy and Islam can flourish alongside each other.

While it is true that there is greater religious freedom in Indonesia than some Muslim-majority countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan and Afghanistan, the ongoing persecution of HKBP and GKI demonstrate that Indonesia still has a long way to go in the treatment of its Christian minorities.

– barnabas team

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