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Local officials close three churches

Cite decree on minority communities in the predominantly Muslim province

  • Ryan Dagur, Jakarta
  • Indonesia
  • May 8, 2012
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Local officials in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam province last week closed three Christian churches in the predominantly Muslim region where sharia law is enforced.

Local media reports said the churches, two Catholic and one Protestant, were closed because of their failure to meet the requirements of a 2006 decree by the religious affairs and home ministries.

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

“The churches … were sealed simultaneously [on May 1],” said Frans R Zai, a Capuchin seminarian from Sibolga diocese yesterday.

However, Zai said the motive for the closures was unclear.

“The Church in Napagaluh village, for example, was built in 1974. Why did the local government close it after 38 years? In fact, the joint ministerial decree and governor’s regulation were just presented a few years ago.”

Local media reports said that members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and police officers from the Public Order unit were dispatched to close the churches.

Zai said the closures were politically motivated rather than a sign of escalating religious conflict.

“Although some perpetrators were members of FPI, the motive was not social or interreligious conflict. It was the impact of the regional elections,” Zai said.

He added that the elections, held last month, had tipped the balance of power in the province, where Christians were a small minority, and that discussions on the matter would be held on May 10.

Theophilus Bela, secretary-general of the Indonesian Committee on Religion and Peace, said he would ask for help from the government.

“The local government should not take such [unreasonable] actions against Catholic and Protestant minority groups,” he said.
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