Two protestant congregation leaders testified in the Bekasi District Court on Monday about a brutal attack on one of their church’s services in September at which both were injured.
The Rev. Luspida Simandjuntak and Asia Sihombing of the Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP) were presented as witnesses in the case against 13 men accused of brutally assaulting them on Sept. 12, 2010.
Asia was stabbed during the attack while Luspida was beaten with a bamboo stick. The incident occurred as the congregation was making its way to a vacant lot in Ciketing, where it had been holding services after authorities sealed off the home that the HKBP had used as a church in Pondok Timur Indah.
Luspida told the court the congregation had received written permission from the regional secretary of Bekasi to use the vacant lot after their church had been shut.
“We first moved our Sunday service to Ciketing on July 11, 2010. However, before we ran our first Sunday service there, several protest banners had been erected saying that the local residents did not want us there,” Luspida said. “We didn’t think our Sunday service would really disturb anyone in the area, so we went ahead and conducted our normal activities such as praying and preaching.”
Luspida told the court she had held a dialogue with the protesters before the assault, including with Murhali Barda, the leader of the Bekasi chapter of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), about conducting a church service on the lot at Ciketing. During the talk she presented letters from authorities granting her church permission to hold services there, but she said the FPI rejected her argument.
Asia Sihombing, secretary of the Bekasi congregation, told the court that the protests started in December 2009 when the HKBP was holding Sunday Masses in the house in Pondok Timur Indah.
Asia also testified that the HKBP had received a letter from the regional secretary allowing them to use the vacant lot in Ciketing after they were evicted from their house of worship.
Following the leaders’ testimonies, defendant Murhali’s lawyer, Shalih Manggara Sitompul, presented two letters to the court from local authorities advising the HKBP against holding Sunday services at the vacant lot and directing them to use the sports building at Jl. Chairil Anwar in East Bekasi instead for Masses.
“They were advised by the government not to hold their service in the vacant lot, but proceeded to ignore that advice. That is why the local residents rejected the church holding their services there,” he said.
Judge Wasdi Permana reviewed the letters presented by Shalih and concluded that the local authorities had indeed advised the HKBP not to worship at the vacant lot.
“This is not an issue of obstructing the congregation’s freedom of religion but they were reminded even by the government not to hold services there. But they neglected this advice,” Shalih added.
He also insisted on his client’s innocence because of the 11 eyewitnesses presented thus far, none have implicated Murhali. Shalih asked that his client therefore be released from detention. He further claimed that Luspida and Petersen Purba had not been truthful under questioning.
The hearings will continue at the district court on Thursday with more testimony from eyewitnesses.