Church Demolitions Follow Arson Attack in Aceh, Indonesia
ICC Note: This report emphasizes the importance of the permit process in establishing a church, and how strong opposition, whether it is local or from radical Muslims not from the area, can slow or stop the entire process. The permit process for building a house of worship is certainly discriminatory. The government must revise this policy before more violence occurs.
By Katharina R. Lestari, Jakarta
10/20/2015 Indonesia (UCA News)
Authorities in Indonesia’s Aceh province have started tearing down illegal churches in a tense district, leaving Catholics in at least three mission stations without a home for religious services.
The move comes after Muslim fundamentalists torched a Protestant church in the area, sending hundreds of Christians fleeing and sparking violent clashes.
On Oct. 19, a Catholic mission station and two Protestant churches were demolished by members of the Aceh Singkil district’s public order agency. Authorities said the demolitions were in line with an agreement between Christians and local officials to close places of worship that do not possess required permits.
The mission station was served by St. Lucia Parish of Pakpak Bharat district in the neighboring province of North Sumatra.
“I heard about the demolition of the mission station from a Catholic who sent me a text message … saying that the mission station had been torn down,” Carmelite Father Mandius Mateus Siringoringo told ucanews.com on Oct. 20.
Prior to the demolition, he said, he called the mission station to see if there was something that could be done to obtain a permit. “The Catholic told me that obtaining a permit was a difficulty they had faced for a long time. The congregation had tried but the permit wasn’t issued,” he said.
Advocates for religious minorities in Indonesia say onerous government regulations on places of worship have often been used to target followers of minority religions, including Christians. A 2006 decree, for example, stipulates that in order to build a place of worship, officials must get signed support from 60 local residents and the approval of the village head. Local regulations in Aceh are even more strict, demanding signatures from 120 people.
As a result, churches in areas with a strong fundamentalist Muslim presence are often denied the proper permits.