Indonesia’s Aceh province to lock up several churches

Decision comes after mob burned down church in attack that killed one and injured several others.

One killed and three Churches set ablaze in clashes between hardliner Islamists and local Christians in Aceh Province
Aceh is the only Indonesian province to adhere to Islamic law, putting it at odds with the rest of the country [Hotli Simanjuntak/EPA]

Several Christian churches are due to be shut down in Indonesia’s Aceh province, local authorities have said, following a mob attack that left a church burned, a person killed, and several others injured.

The decision came on Sunday after Muslim residents of Aceh, including members of the hardline group, Islamic Defenders Front, demanded that the local government lock up 10 churches in Singkil district of the province, saying they were built without the required building permits.

“Ten churches have been identified as not having proper permits and should be closed,” Hambali Sinaga, head of Islamic Defenders Front, was quoted as saying by the Jakarta Globe online publication.


Sinaga said that the government had until Monday to take action.

Authorities said on Sunday that members of as many as six churches had agreed to dismantle their houses of worship, admitting the lack of the permits.

“All houses of worship, regardless of the religion, need to be in accordance with the laws of Aceh,” Bardan Sahidi, a member of the provincial parliament, told the Reuters news agency after attending a meeting of political and religious figures, including representatives from the religious affairs ministry in Jakarta.

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A mob of hundreds of people burned down a small church in Aceh Singkil district last week, forcing thousands of Christians to flee to neighbouring villages.

One Muslim member of the mob was killed, police said last week, adding that at least 10 people had been detained on suspicion of inciting violence.

The government has since deployed 1,300 police and military personnel to the area, with hundreds more on standby, to patrol the streets and stand guard outside churches that dot the small palm oil plantations in the district.

Christian residents of the run-down village attended a service on Sunday right next to the charred remains of their church, under the guard of about a dozen armed security personnel.

“At the moment, things are calm, but we are on standby for any further incidents,” said Saladin, spokesman for the Aceh police, adding that evacuees had since returned to their homes.

The vast majority of Indonesians practise a moderate form of Islam and Aceh is the only province to adhere to Islamic law, putting it at odds with the rest of the country.

Aceh was granted special autonomy as part of a 2005 agreement to end decades of separatist violence, which allowed it to implement Islamic law.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters