Authorities have closed nine churches and six Buddhist temples in Banda Aceh in the last week, following mounting pressure from local Islamist groups, activists and church officials said on Sunday.
Theophilus Bela, chairman of Jakarta Christian Communication Forum, said that the churches’ priests were forced to sign a statement to close their churches. Officials from the province that applies Shariah law supposedly made the demands in a meeting that was attended by several Islamic organizations, including the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI).
“It’s a blatant act of intolerance,” Theophilus said.
The churches include the Indonesian Bethel Church (GBI), the Pantekosta Church and the Indonesia Christian Church.
Nico Tarigan, a priest and head of GBI church, acknowledged that the permit needed for the church to remain open had not been issued from the mayor’s office, even though the paperwork for the permit had been submitted a long time ago.
“We admit we have not had the permit,” he said by telephone. “But they can’t just close down our church. We have 80 members that don’t know where to pray.”
Illiza Sa’aduddin Djamal, Banda Aceh deputy mayor, said that the nine churches and six temples have violated the city’s regulation, and should be closed down.
“The congregation members can join churches that have secured permits,” he said. “As a province that applies Islamist law, Aceh has a special law on this issue.”
He also called on Aceh’s Christians to respect the law.
However, Nico said that other churches were not necessarily open to members from other congregations.
“We hope there is a better solution from the Aceh government,” Nico said. “We have no motive to compete with other religions or ruin Islamic teaching. We have been here for eight years. They can ask local officials if we have done damage to Islamic teaching.”
“The FPI will continue to monitor these illegal churches and temples so that they don’t resume their activities,” said FPI chairman Yusuf Al-Qardhawy. JG