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ICC NOTE: Aceh, Indonesia is the only province in the Muslim majority nation to be allowed to rule under Sharia law. As Indonesia is considered to be a secular nation, the ability for such a province to rule under purely religious laws brings into question the validity of Indonesia’s position as open to all faiths. For Christians in the province, it is the most difficult region of Indonesia to live and to practice their faith freely. In October alone more than 10 churches were burned, destroyed, or forced to close in Aceh as more than 30 were given the same fate nationally in 2015. According to Open Doors International, Indonesia holds the 47th spot for worst country to live in as a Christian. 

12/28/2015 Indonesia (World Watch Monitor) – President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on 23rd Dec promised a safe Christmas celebration throughout Indonesia. It’s the world’s most populous Muslim nation, but only one of its provinces applies sharia.

Ten churches were destroyed in this province – Aceh, in the Singkil regency – in the month of October alone, out of more than 30 churches nationally which were torched, destroyed, or forced to shut down in 2015.

In all, 11 churches were demolished in Singkil, most following a settlement between Aceh Singkil’s religious leaders under the local government’s consent, after clashes between Muslims and Christians led to a focus on the existence of still-unregistered churches. However, many churches say they have tried to register for years and faced numerous obstacles.

In the immediate run-up to Christmas, the Aceh Singkil Regency Chief, or Bupati, banned Christmas services on 25th – affecting more than 2,000 Christians from the destroyed churches. They were only allowed and promised security by the authorities (Bupati, police and military) if they held services on the 23rd Dec.

The recently-established Aceh Singkil Churches’ Communication Forum (Forsicas) met on 23rd Dec. and decided to hold services on the 25th at all the sites where their demolished churches used to stand. This was in direct defiance of the authority’s directives to either have the Christmas services on the 23rd or hold them on 25th outside Singkil’s border.

Since October, the majority of the Singkil congregants have been unable to share in corporate worship. Around 1,000 churchless believers were prohibited from raising temporary tents to hold Sunday worship services – for “security reasons” – and advised to go to churches in other villages.

In Aceh, church leaders must obtain permission from the local government if they want to hold Sunday services in tents. One of the torched churches, the Indonesian Christian Church (HKI), has recently been given a permit to do so.

Aceh Singkil’s authorities also emphasised that 13 remaining churches (those not on the authorities’ list for “closure” as a result of the inter-communal violence) were given permission to apply for a registration permit, and that they must do so in the next six months. Church leaders from those churches must now gather at least 150 identity cards from church members and another 120 from local Muslims.

The government also promised a worship centre for those whose churches have been destroyed, but many Christians are sceptical.

“Our leaders have applied for permits since our church was sealed in 2012, but the government hasn’t released the permits yet,” said a member of the Indonesian Christian Church, referring to a similar situation in May 2012, when 20 churches in Aceh were closed for the same reason.

(Full Article)