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Sharia police in Aceh prepare to remove tent churches

Jakarta (UCAN): Authorities in Aceh Singkil district in sharia law-governed Aceh province are planning to remove tent churches put up by Protestant congregations to replace churches that were torn down last year.

The district’s secretary, Azmi, said the removals were planned since the tents were only built for Christmas services.

“The congregations asked the district head and governor for permits prior to Christmas. There was one condition, though. After Christmas, the tents should be removed,” he said on January 7.

However, Reverend Jasman Bancin of the Pakpak Dairi Christian Protestant Church said there was no such agreement.

He said that when sharia police and public order officials arrived to remove the tents in early January, the congregation resisted the move.

“Mothers, children and young people blocked them. They made their objections clear,” he said.

In August 2015, a mob burned down the Pakpak Dairi Christian Protestant Church in Mandumpang village, killing one person and forcing thousands of Christians to flee the area. In October, local authorities tore down nine other churches—including two Catholic mission stations—that had no building permits.

Bancin noted that two tent churches were torn down on January 5.

Father Blasius S. Yesse, secretary of Sibolga Diocese, said the removals were a troubling sign for religious freedom in the province.

“This must not happen in Indonesia.… Everyone has the right to worship anywhere. No one has the right to ban others to do so,” he said.

“The only hope is central government intervention. So local regulations don’t go too far. The state must be there to guarantee freedom of worship,” Father Yesse said.

Capuchin Father Alfons Pandiangan, was the pastor at St. Michael’s parish in neighbouring North Sumatra province, said that freedom of worship in the province seems difficult to enforce.

He said that the central government had to take a firm stand and “broaden the horizons of officials at both provincial and district levels in Aceh.” 

Abdullah, who heads Aceh Singkil’s sharia police and public order agency, said he has not received a new orders to tear down the tents.

Meanwhile, Daud Pakeh, chairperson of the province’s Religious Affairs Ministry, called on the congregations to obtain building permits instead of erecting the tents so that their churches “become legal and the congregations are at peace.” 


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