Indonesian authorities close down nine churches

Authorities in Banda Aceh have closed down nine churches and six Buddhist temples in the past week following mounting pressure from local Islamic groups, quoted rights groups as saying.

All the religious sites are in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam province in Sumatra where sharia law is implemented.

“Priests were forced to sign a document agreeing to stop religious activities [in their churches] because they don’t have building permits,” said Veryanto Sitohang, chairman of the Alliance of United North Sumatra, a human rights group.

“We were informed that intimidation was exercised when these signings took place,” he told

Theophilus Bela, chairman of Jakarta Christian Communication Forum, told The Jakarta Globe that priests were forced to sign a statement to close their churches.

Officials from the province that applies Shariah law supposedly made the demands in a meeting that was attended by several Islamic organizations, including the Islamic Defenders Front.

“It’s a blatant act of intolerance,” Theophilus said.

The churches closed include buildings belonging to the Indonesian Bethel Church, the Pentecost Church and the Indonesian Christian Church.

Sitohang said all the congregations had met the requirements of a 2006 decree from the religious affairs and home ministries as well as a 2007 regulation set by the governor.

“But it seems the local authorities didn’t want them to obtain a building permit,” he said.

The 2006 decree states that any religious community not part of the local majority must have at least 90 congregation members and approval from at least 60 people from other religious communities to build a place of worship.

The governor’s regulation, however, says congregations must number at least 150 people and approval must come from at least 120 people from other religious communities.

“Such requirements for minority groups are, of course, very difficult to meet since almost 98 percent of people living in the province are Muslims,” Sitohang said.


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