Authorities in Banda Aceh have closed down nine churches and six Buddhist temples in the past week following mounting pressure from local Islamic groups, rights groups say. All the religious sites are in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam (NAD) 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 ucanews.com today. The churches closed include buildings belonging to the Indonesian Bethel Church (GBI), 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 NAD 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 in order 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. GBI priest Reverend Nico Tarigan has urged provincial authorities to find another solution. Banda Aceh deputy mayor Illiza Sa’aduddin Djamal suggested the congregations join other churches which have building permits. “As a province that applies Islamic law, Aceh has a special law on this issue,” the Jakarta Globe quoted him as saying. Related report Localofficials close three churches
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