Police fired tear gas after hardline Muslims tried to break into building site

Indonesian police fired tear gas on Friday to disperse hard-line Muslims protesting against the construction of a Catholic church in a satellite city of the capital, Jakarta.

Several hundred protesters from a group called Forum for Bekasi Muslim Friendship staged a rowdy demonstration in front of the Santa Clara church in Kaliabang, a neighbourhood of Bekasi city, after Friday prayers.

Witnesses said police fired tear gas as the protesters tried to force their way into the church, which has been under construction since November. Some also threw rocks and bottles into the site.

Fr Raymundus Sianipar said police asked him to leave the area for safety reasons.

Muslim-majority Indonesia recognises six religions, but militant Islamic groups frequently protest against the minority faiths and police often do not intervene. Members of minority religions that aren’t recognised by the state face persistent discrimination.

Ismail Ibrahim, a cleric and organiser of the protest, said they would not disperse until authorities cancelled the church’s construction permit.

The church in the northern part of Bekasi has been the target of protests by hardline Muslims since it obtained its permit in June 2015. Some claim the church’s leaders used false identity cards to get the permit.

In April last year a Muslim group sealed off the church, tore down its sign and demanded that the mayor cancel the permit.

The private Asian Human Rights Commission has started an appeal on the church’s behalf, asking for supporters to send letters to 10 top Indonesian leaders, including President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

About 12,000 Catholics in the Bekasi region currently meet in store fronts or business premises that serve as informal places of worship.