Authorities Close Down Churches in Aceh, Indonesia
Christian News Today | September 18, 2014
At the prompting of Islamic extremists, authorities in Indonesia's Aceh Province have forbidden nine churches to worship, saying they are "illegal."
According to a story by Morning Star News, Illiza Sa'aduddin Djamal, deputy mayor of Banda Aceh, capital of Aceh Province, called pastors of nine churches and five Buddhist monasteries for a meeting on Oct. 15, said Veryanto Sitohang, head of rights group United North Sumatra Alliance.
Representatives from five of the nine churches attended the meeting. Morning Star News reported they were forced to sign an "agreement" saying they would stop all activities because they did not have official permits.
Those permits are obtainable only by meeting very difficult requirements from local governments, Sitohang told Morning Star News. The other four churches will also be told to sign the agreement soon, he added.
Sitohang said that the Aceh official told the church leaders that if they did not sign the agreement, the government would not be responsible for their security.
"The agreement was projected as a measure to protect the safety of the religious minorities," Morning Star News reported Sitohang said.
All nine churches were registered with Indonesia's Department of Religion, Sitohang said. However, officials in Aceh also require local licensing that is difficult to obtain and selectively enforced, thus providing a pretext for local Islamists to close down churches.
Morning Star News reported that even compliance with local regulations does not guarantee that a church will be allowed to function. However, authorities and extremist groups also cite 1979 and 2001 agreements between Muslims and Christians stipulating that only one church be built in each district. Those agreements were cited when Aceh Singkil closed down churches in May.