Indonesian officials tear down a church during the demolition of several churches in Singkil, Aceh province, last Oct. 19. Christian leaders said they have been frustrated by inconsistencies in the province's application of Islamic law. (Photo by AFP)
Protestant leaders in Aceh met with Indonesian human rights officials April 22 over the inconsistent implementation of Islamic law in the province, which the church leaders say has restricted religious freedom.
At issue is the construction and administration of churches in the province. Within the past nine months, 10 Christian churches have been torn down by local authorities or attacked by a Muslim mob.
Last August, a mob burned down the Pakpak Dairi Christian Protestant Church in Mandumpang village, killing one person and forcing thousands of Christians to flee the area. Two months later, Sharia officials tore down nine Christian churches — including two Catholic mission stations — that the officials said had no permits to operate.
Boas Tumangger, coordinator of the Forum for Love of Peace in Aceh, said church leaders thought they had reached an agreement with Aceh Singkil district authorities last October for the construction of 13 churches. However recently the forum was told they had to restart the application process.
"The district's forum kept changing its policy so as to make it difficult for us to obtain church building permits," he said.
The church group obtained permissions from village officials, residents and Muslim leaders — as required by law — and were surprised when the district government scrapped their plans.
"We see that the district government doesn't want to see any churches in their area," Tumangger said.
Ramli Manik, a local Muslim leader, told ucanews.com that local Muslims supported the faith communities "as long as they have church building permits."
Intolerance, he said, wasn't the reason the congregations faced opposition. "The problem is that the local government fails to make the process easier," he said.
Imdadun Rahmat, national commission chairman, said he will coordinate with the federal government to resolve the issue. After receiving recommendations from the federal government, the commission will hold dialogue with district leaders.
"We will keep fighting for the rights of the people in Aceh Singkil district. But we don't want to promise anything," he said.
He said the commission once attempted a dialogue with the provincial government.
"We asked them to respect the religious freedom provisions of the 1945 constitution. But the provincial government always says that Aceh is a special region," he said.
District officials declined to comment.