Jakarta. An official from Bekasi’s secretariat on Monday accused the leaders of a local church of failing to heed repeated warnings from the city administration to move their prayer services away from an empty field because it might incite conflict.
Testifying as a witness in the trial of 13 men accused of assaulting two leaders of the Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP) in Bekasi, Zaki Oetomo told the Bekasi District Court that the attack on Asia Sihombing and the Rev. Luspida Simandjuntak occurred because they had ignored requests to use another venue.
During the Sept. 12 assault, Asia was stabbed while Luspida was beaten with a bamboo stick.
One of the defendants standing trial is Murhali Barda, the suspended leader of the Bekasi chapter of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI).
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 residential house it was using as a church in Pondok Timur Indah.
Zaki confirmed that the city administration had instructed the congregation on July 9 to no longer use the house, while permission was granted for the congregation to instead use its vacant lot in Ciketing.
“But ever since we allowed them to hold their services there, there have been continuous demonstrations from local residents in Ciketing,” Zaki told the court.
“We, from the administration, continued to monitor the situation. I personally went there three times to monitor what was going on,” he added.
“We learned that the situation was getting worse each time, so Bekasi’s deputy mayor advised the congregation to move their prayer services to a building on Jalan Chairil Anwar in East Bekasi. This request was made official through a letter the city issued on July 21.”
Zaki said he regretted the attitude of the church’s leaders for ignoring the administration’s advice. “If they had listened to us, this incident would not have occurred. The administration advised them to move, not because we were denying them their religious rights; We were genuinely worried about their security.”
The trial was adjourned until Thursday.
In a separate development, the Cibinong District Court in Bogor on Monday began the trial of three men for an attack on the Ahmadiyah community in October last year. The incident saw a mob of hundreds ransack and burn down houses, schools and a mosque in Cisalada village, home to 600 followers of the minority sect, which is deemed deviant by many mainstream Muslims.
The defendants, Dede Novi, 18, Aldi, 18, and Akbar, 17, were charged them with destruction of property and violence.
News portal VIVAnews reported that thousands of supporters of the three arrived at the court in minibuses, demanding their release. The hearing was adjourned till next Wednesday.
Dozens of police and military personnel guarded the Cisalada village on Monday in case of an attack