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Indonesia: Churches Forced to Close

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At least 22 churches have been forced to close in Indonesia this year due to mounting pressure on local governments. Eighteen of the closed churches are located in the Singkil regency of Aceh province, where Muslims held a “peace rally” on April 30 urging the local government to tear down all churches lacking legal permits.

At least 300 Muslims, including religious leaders, gathered at the April 30 rally to demand that local authorities enforce the Agreement of 1979, which dictates that only one church building can operate in the district. At the suggestion of the head of district police, Muslim leaders agreed to give the Christians three days to tear down their own church buildings. The Muslims formed a group to monitor the Christians, with the understanding that police would tear down the unregistered churches if they were still standing in three days.

On Tuesday, May 1, a group of local officials and radical Muslims from the Islamic Defender Front visited the Pakpak Dairi Protestant Christian Church (GKPPD) in Siatas with the intent of closing the church. After they announced that the church would be closed because it did not have a building permit, several female church members collapsed and tensions increased between the two groups.

The pastor eventually persuaded them to leave the church open, arguing that closing the church would “kill” the congregation and have a negative effect on the community. He reminded them that the church had contributed to the community by combating social problems like prostitution and gambling and that Muslims and Christians had coexisted peacefully in the village for years.

These churches were closed by their local governments.

The next day, the monitoring team moved on to another GKPPD church in the village of Biskang and repeated their closure demands. After objections from church members, the team told them they could continue to meet but that the church must stop its expansion project. Finally, the team moved on to Sikoran village, where they sealed a Catholic church.

Nine church leaders met later that day with the Singkil District Head, who told them, “In two weeks, we will tear down your church buildings. No more compromise.”

The churches reportedly resumed services on May 13 despite the threats.

A representative of the Indonesian Fellowship of Churches said more than 12,000 Christians live in the Singkil regency, which has a total population of about 102,000.

Sources: Compass Direct News, VOM contacts

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