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Regent Orders Churches Closed, Destroyed in Aceh  Tapol
 Jun 13, 2012 02:50 PDT 

From Joyo


The Jakarta Post
Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Regent Orders Churches Closed, Destroyed in Aceh

Bagus BT Saragih, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The discovery that a regent in Aceh ordered 20 places of worship
closed in April is raising concerns that growing intolerance will
trigger communal conflicts.

The closures were ordered by Aceh Singkil Acting Regent Razali AR in a
letter signed on April 30 that also ordered members of the
congregations to tear down the churches by themselves.

“The local administration says that if the church members refuse to
comply, the administration itself will demolish the buildings,”
Veryanto Sitohang of the United North Sumatra Alliance, a human rights
group, said in Jakarta on Tuesday.

“The deadline for the demolition was June 8. It has been a few days
since the deadline, but nothing has happened so far,” Veryanto said.

Razali ordered the closure of 17 Protestant churches, two Catholic
churches and one place of worship belonging to followers of a local
nondenominational faith.

He issued the letter following a protest by members of the hard-line
Islam Defenders Front (FPI) at the regency office on the same day.

The group alleged that the establishments violated community
agreements signed in 1979 and 2001 by Muslim and Christian leaders in
the regency.

One of the affected ministers said the agreements were signed under force.

“Church officials signed the documents because they were under threat.
The documents said that the Christians are only allowed to have one
church and four undung-undung in the regency,” Erde Barutu, the
minister of the Pakpak Dairi Christian Protestant Church in Aceh
Singkil, said.

Undung-undung refer to small non-denominational places of worship.

Erde said the number of Christians living in the regency had increased
significantly since 1979, and currently topped 15,000.

According to the Central Statistics Agency, the population of Aceh was
comprised of 4,413,244 Muslims, 50,309 Protestants and 3,315 Catholics
in 2010.

After the closures, there are currently only two churches open in Aceh
Singkil, both built after 2000. Most of the churches slated for
demolition were built in 1930s and 1940s.

Erde said that members of the congregation of most of the churches
continued to perform religious services inside the sealed buildings,
while other members, some of whom were armed, remained on guard
outside.

Meanwhile, Sunday religious services for children have been cut short
due for security reasons.

Separately, Tigor Padang from the Aceh Singkil Christian
Communications Forum said that church officials have sent letters to
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, several ministries and the
National Police to protest the closures and scheduled demolitions.

Only the Law and Human Rights Ministry has responded, Tigor said.

A team from the North Sumatra government’s Law and Human Rights Agency
visited the churches on June 7.

“They said that they would report their findings to the law and human
rights minister,” Tigor said.

Erde said that if the situation worsened in Aceh Singkil, local
Christians would set up a blockade of the regency from North Sumatra.
The border between Aceh Singkil and North Sumatra lies in some
Christian-dominated villages, such as Keras village in Suro
subdistrict.

Separately, Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi said that he was not aware
that the acting regent had ordered the places of worship to be closed
and demolished.

Gamawan said that he would contact the acting regent to ask for
clarification, adding that citizens had a right to worship as long as
they complied with regulations.

“Churches must not be demolished if the officials have fulfilled the
requirements. If they don’t have building permits, they must obtain
them first. And if the local administration refuses to issue the
permits, we must find out the reason,” Gamawan said.

The dispute in Aceh adds to the long list of incidents of religious
intolerance in the nation.

In Bekasi, West Java, members of the congregation of the Filadelfia
Batak Protestant Churches (HKBP) continue to be regularly assaulted
and harassed by Muslims as the parishioners try to conduct Sunday
services.

The Bekasi regency sealed off the church site in 2010 after local
residents objected to the construction of the church. The regency has
refused to open the site even after the Bandung State Administrative
Court ruled in favor of HKBP Filadelfia.

Members of the GKI Yasmin congregation face similar harassment in
Bogor, West Java.

Various human rights groups have reported cases of attacks on Ahmadis
as well, including congregations in Cikeusik, Banten, and Tangerang.
(tas)

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