Indonesia: Authorities demolish churches upon pressure from local Islamist groups

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Indonesia Churches
Church demolishing drive running extensively in Indonesia’s Aceh province.

In keeping with details, the governmental authorities in Indonesia have initiated a drive of demolishing churches in Aceh province of the country. It has been learnt that country’s Islamic groups have exerted enormous pressure on the authorities to tear down churches in Aceh.

Thus far three churches have been torn down as a part of this drive. Islamist groups allege that these churches have been built without prerequisites. Apart from these three, more churches are to be demolished. The Indonesian authorities have planned to demolish ten churches initially.

Bearing this mind, it seems that it is never easy to obtain building permits for churches. As Aceh is Indonesia’s strictly Islamic province and the only unit in the country where Sharia is prevalent. These churches repeatedly pleaded for building permits from the concerned authorities however, there request were turned down.

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Additionally, Indonesian Churches Federation, Chairwoman, Henriette Hutabarat-Lebang, explained that it is the last resort of Christian authorities to build churches without permits as the governmental authorities show reluctance to issue proper building permits. “But in reality, obtaining a permit to build a house of worship is very difficult, and they often cannot be obtained at all,” she stated.

On the other hand, a pastor from one of the churches torn down, Paima Brutu, said: “We applied for permission to build a thousand times. At this point we want to know whether the government will ever allow us to have it.” However, the churches now seen as controversial are constructed of wood and these wooden structures are called “undung-undung” or small churches in local language.

The Islamic protestors who represented “Aceh Youth Concerned for Islam” had been complaining since last month that the number of churches been built recently has exceeded the permitted number of churches. In 1979, only one church was allowed to be built in Singkil area in addition to four undung-undung.

Nonetheless, seeing a rapid increase in Christian population in the area, only one church was insufficient to minister to a larger Christian population. There arose a need to build more churches and so the Christian leaders are seeking building permits but the concerned authorities are reluctant. “There are now 23 undung-undung. It has become chaos,” said Singkil’s regent, Safriadi Manik.