By Jeremy Reynalds
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
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.
Morning Star News reported the Aceh official said on Oct. 15 that
the nine churches should take their congregations to the four
"official" churches in the city for Sunday services.
"But this is not feasible, because these congregations come from
different backgrounds," said Sitohang.
Morning Star News said on Oct. 12, a prominent Muslim cleric,
Teungku Usman Kuta Krueng, a.k.a. Abu Kuta Krueng, asked the
mayor of Banda Aceh to stop the activities of "illegal" churches
and Buddhist monasteries, according to the local newspaper
Serambi Indonesia. The cleric had been briefed about the churches and monasteries by the extremist Islamic Defenders Front (locally known as the FPI).
After Monday's meeting, Morning Star News reported, the Aceh
division of the FPI said its members would keep an eye on all the
"illegal" churches to prevent them from violating the "agreement."
The closed churches had been operating for years.
"The religious atmosphere in the city is tense, and we do not know where we will go on Sunday for worship," a pastor speaking on condition of anonymity told Morning Star News. "We are confused. The government must provide us with some solution."
Aceh is a special region that has the highest proportion of Muslims in Indonesia and is partially governed by sharia (Islamic law).
Gubernatorial Regulation No. 25/2007 makes it extremely difficult for non-Muslim groups to get permits for building a new house of worship. A petition must be signed by at least 150 worshipers who must provide copies of their identity cards. It must also be supported by 120 other local residents.
Morning Star News said among the churches closed were the
Surabaya Pentecostal Church (Gereja Pentakosta Pusat
Surabaya); Bethel Church of Indonesia (Gereja Bethel Indonesia);
the Pentecostal Church of Indonesia (Gereja Pentakosta di
Indonesia); the Christian Congregation of Indonesia (Jemaat
Kristen Indonesia); the Holy Christian Church of Indonesia (Gereja Kristen Kudus Indonesia); the Victory of Faith Church of Indonesia (Gereja Kemenangan Iman Indonesia); and the Tabernacle of David Christian Church (Gereja Kristen Kemah Daud).
About 98 percent of the population in the city of Banda Aceh is
Muslim. Aceh Province has 4.4 million Muslims, a little over
50,000 Protestants and about 3,300 Catholics, according to the
Central Statistics Agency.
In May, Morning Star News reported, 17 churches in Aceh's Singkil Regency were closed down by the local administration. These closures were ordered by Regent Razali A.R. in a letter signed on April 30, which asked members of the congregations themselves to tear down the church buildings. The order came following a protest by members of the FPI at the regency office the same day.
Morning Star News said Aceh turned more intolerant after the
election of a hard-line Islamic governor in April. The FPI has said
authorities in all areas in Aceh should close down "illegal"
Morning Star News said closures of and attacks on churches are
not uncommon in other parts of Indonesia either. The Gereja
Kristen Indonesia (the GKI Yasmin Church) in the city of Bogor and the Philadelphia Batak Christian Protestant Church in Bekasi, both near Jakarta in West Java Province, remain sealed by their respective authorities for months despite Supreme Court orders in their favor.
Morning Star News said with about 210 million Muslims, Indonesia is home to the world's largest Muslim population. While the majority of the Muslims are from the Shafi'i school of the Islamic jurisdiction, which is considered fairly moderate, Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood approaches to Islam took root in 1942 during the Indonesian War of Independence from the Dutch Empire.