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May 12, 2012 03:36 PDT
The Jakarta Globe
May 11, 2012
Church Row a ‘Dark Time’ for Aceh
by Nurdin Hasan
Banda Aceh. Another Christian house of worship has been sealed off in
Aceh Singkil district, bringing the total since last week to 17 and
marking a new low for religious intolerance in the staunchly Muslim
province, a rights group said on Wednesday.
Agusta Mukhtar, a spokesman for the group Pro-Democracy People, said
it was regrettable that the local authorities had sealed off the
buildings following a protest on April 30 by hard-line groups
including the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), which oppose the
“The religious peace here has been shattered by this anarchistic
action that seeks religious domination for an inflexible faith,” he
said in a statement. “This is a dark time in the history of religious
freedom and tolerance in Aceh.”
Sixteen of the undung-undungs, small houses of worship not categorized
as churches, were sealed off by district officials last week, on the
pretext they had been built without proper permits. Another was closed
off on Tuesday.
The authorities insist that only one church and four undung-undungs
may be built in the entire district, despite one-sixth of its
population of about 120,000 being Christian — the highest proportion
of any district or city in Aceh.
Agusta blamed the authorities not just for acquiescing to the
hard-liners, but also for failing to promote religious tolerance at
the grassroots level to prevent hard-line sentiment from taking root.
He said it was the job of the district and provincial administrations,
as well as the Religious Affairs Ministry, to prevent these kinds of
acts of intolerance from flaring up in the first place.
Zaenal Abidin, the head of the team responsible for sealing off the
buildings, said that the latest undung-undung to be sealed off was
located in a majority-Christian village. “But because they didn’t have
a permit for it, we had to shut it down,” he said.
He added that there had been “no significant protests” over the
closure, and that his office had “given the residents guidance” as an
admonishment for having built the undung-undung.
Sondang Marbun, the head of Christian affairs at the provincial office
of the Religious Affairs Ministry, supported the officials in the
district. He said the closures were warranted and that he had
previously reminded Christians in Aceh Singkil not to build any
undung-undungs without a permit.
He added that he would soon visit the district to see what the problem
was all about and try to find a solution.
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