Worship Decree an Excuse For Attack

The Jakarta Globe

Elisabeth Oktofani & Yuli Krisna

Two men standing trial for a brutal assault on two church leaders in Bekasi told the district court on Thursday that they had been motivated to confront the victims because of a government decree that placed restrictions on houses of worship.

In total, 13 men stand accused of assaulting Asia Sihombing and the Rev. Luspida Simandjuntak, leaders of a congregation of the Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP), on Sept. 12.

Asia was stabbed during the attack while Luspida was beaten with a bamboo stick.

The incident occurred as the congregation was on its way to a vacant lot in Ciketing, where it had been holding services after authorities sealed off the home it was using as a church in Pondok Timur Indah.

Questioned by prosecutor Indra Pribadi, the first defendant, Supriyanto, said that even though he was not from Bekasi, he had been motivated to confront the church leaders by updates on the Facebook page of Murhali Barda, a suspended leader of the Bekasi chapter of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI). Murhali is also a suspect in the case.

Indra read out one of Murhali’s updates to the court. “Praise be to God. Reskon Sitorus, the HKBP priest who likes to hide under a woman’s armpit, I challenge you to show up.

On the 12th [of September] we will fight one-on-one,” it said. “Hey, you priests who like to use their congregation to gain popularity and respect, I challenge you next Sunday.”

Supriyanto told the hearing that news about the Ciketing services had made him angry.

“More so after reading Murhali’s Facebook update. I was motivated to help the government to enforce the law.”

A 2006 joint ministerial decree on houses of worship requires the approval of at least 60 residents in the immediate vicinity of a house of worship, copies of 90 identity cards from congregation members and written recommendations from the local offices of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interreligious Communication Forum (FKUB).

Supriyanto added that he did not know Murhali personally, having only met him on Sept. 12, the day of the attack, at Miftahul Jannah Mosque in Ciketing.

Meanwhile, Ade Firman, another defendant in the case, said he had met with at least eight of the other suspects at an Islamic get-together when he received a message from Murhali.

“It said that society should reject the HKBP’s Sunday services in the vacant lot in Ciketing because it violated the 2006 joint ministerial decree,” he said.

Ade said Murhali had suggested they meet at Nurul Huda Mosque, which is located some distance away from Miftahul Jannah Mosque.

“We did not get to Nurul Huda because before we could, we saw the HKBP congregation. We saw some of the congregation members beating up a motorcyclist,” he said.

“Some minutes later, I saw a motorbike with three people coming toward me. I was trying to defend myself and I hit the woman who was sitting on the back of the motorcycle.”

The woman that was hit was identified as Luspida.

The motorcyclist allegedly beaten by the HKBP congregation was Ismail bin Abdullah, another defendant who addressed the court on Thursday.

“I was driving my bike when suddenly the HKBP congregation got hold of me and called me a thief,” he said.

“All I knew was that I was supposed to meet my friends for a get-together at the Nurul Huda Mosque. Ade asked some of us to go to Ciketing, but he did not explain why.”

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