06/13/2012 Indonesia (The Jakarta Post) – The discovery that a regent in Aceh ordered 20 places of worship closed in April is raising concerns that growing intolerance will trigger communal conflicts.
The closures were ordered by Aceh Singkil Acting Regent Razali AR in a letter signed on April 30 that also ordered members of the congregations to tear down the churches by themselves.
“The local administration says that if the church members refuse to comply, the administration itself will demolish the buildings,” Veryanto Sitohang of the United North Sumatra Alliance, a human rights group, said in Jakarta on Tuesday.
“The deadline for the demolition was June 8. It has been a few days since the deadline, but nothing has happened so far,” Veryanto said.
Razali ordered the closure of 17 Protestant churches, two Catholic churches and one place of worship belonging to followers of a local nondenominational faith.
He issued the letter following a protest by members of the hard-line Islam Defenders Front (FPI) at the regency office on the same day.
The group alleged that the establishments violated community agreements signed in 1979 and 2001 by Muslim and Christian leaders in the regency.
One of the affected ministers said the agreements were signed under force.
“Church officials signed the documents because they were under threat. The documents said that the Christians are only allowed to have one church and four undung-undung in the regency,” Erde Barutu, the minister of the Pakpak Dairi Christian Protestant Church in Aceh Singkil, said.
Undung-undung refer to small non-denominational places of worship.
According to the Central Statistics Agency, the population of Aceh was comprised of 4,413,244 Muslims, 50,309 Protestants and 3,315 Catholics in 2010.
After the closures, there are currently only two churches open in Aceh Singkil, both built after 2000. Most of the churches slated for demolition were built in 1930s and 1940s.
Erde said that members of the congregation of most of the churches continued to perform religious services inside the sealed buildings, while other members, some of whom were armed, remained on guard outside.
Meanwhile, Sunday religious services for children have been cut short due for security reasons.