Indonesian policemen stand next to a structure bearing a cross from a church that was torn down by the local government in Singkil, Aceh province last Oct. 19. (Photo by Dian Majni/AFP)
Authorities in Aceh Singkil district in sharia law-governed Aceh province are planning to remove tents built by Protestant congregations to replace churches that were torn down last year.
According to the district's secretary Azmi, who has only one name, the removal was planned since the tents were built only for Christmas services.
"The congregations asked the district head and governor for permits prior to Christmas. There was one condition, though. After Christmas, the tents should be removed," he told ucanews.com Jan. 7.
However, the Rev. Jasman Bancin of the Pakpak Dairi Christian Protestant Church said there was no such agreement.
Bancin said that when sharia police and public order officials arrived at the church in early January to remove the tents, the congregation resisted the move.
"Mothers, children and youths blockaded them. They made their objections clear," he said.
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. In October, local authorities tore down nine other churches — including two Catholic mission stations — that had no building permits.
Bancin noted that two church tents were torn down Jan. 5.
Right to worship
Father Blasius S. Yesse, secretary of Sibolga Diocese said the move to remove the tents was a troubling sign for religious freedom in the province.
"This must not happen in Indonesia.… Everyone has the right to worship anywhere. No one has the right to ban others to do so," he told ucanews.com.
"The only hope is central government intervention. So local regulations don't go too far," he said. "The state must be there to guarantee freedom of worship."
Capuchin Father Alfons Pandiangan, who recently served as the priest at St. Michael's Parish in neighboring North Sumatra province, said that freedom of worship in the province seems difficult to enforce.
The central government must take a firm stance, he said. "Broaden the horizons of officials from both provincial and district governments in Aceh," he told ucanews.com.
Abdullah, who chairs the district's sharia police and public order agency, said he has not received a new order to tear down the tents.
"Last week, there was an order. But some Protestants resisted," he told ucanews.com.
Meanwhile, Daud Pakeh, chairman of the province's Religious Affairs Ministry, called on the congregations to obtain building permits instead of erecting the tents.
"Please prepare all the documents needed so their churches become legal and the congregations are at peace," he told ucanews.com.
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