10/14/2015, 00.00
INDONESIA

Aceh, Islamists attack churches: one dead and four wounded

by Mathias Hariyadi
The mob of fundamentalists set fire to a church, claiming it was illegal and without building permits. Attempts to set fire to a second triggered clashes with the local population. Several Christian families flee in fear of more violence. In the coming days another 10 Christian places of worship will be demolished.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – One person was killed, four were wounded and a church burned down in sectarian clashes yesterday in the district of Singkil, Aceh province, western Indonesia, the most "Islamic" of the world’s most populous Muslim nation and dubbed "The door to Mecca."

Local witnesses report that hundreds of Muslims attacked a first place of Christian worship because "illegal" (without the required building permit), setting it on fire. Later, the crowd moved on to a second church, resulting in violent clashes that killed one person and injured several others.

A few weeks ago there was an increase of tension in Aceh, in the context of increasing pressure from local Islamic fundamentalist fringe. Last week a group of protesters held a demonstration demanding the demolition of what they call "unlicensed churches".

In response, the local government consented to demolishing but delayed "too long" causing resentment among extremist movements. There are at least 10 Christians places of worship considered "irregular" because they do not have the infamous IMB (Izin Mendirikan Bangunan, the construction permit); the beginning of the demolition was scheduled for October 19 and would end in two weeks. The Churches that have been spared - 14 in all – have been given six months to regularize their position.

Husein Hamidi, chief of police in Aceh, reports that "after burning the church, the crowd - made up mostly of members of the Muslim Youth Forum - tried to attack another but ran into opposition from Christians." Following clashes between extremists and the villagers of Dangguran (sub-district of Gunung Meriah), adds the official, "a man was killed when he was shot in the head" and four others were wounded.

According to sources, the police made several arrests, but there is currently no official confirmation; Meanwhile calm has returned to the district - a Christian enclave in an overwhelmingly Muslim majority nation - although tension could return in the coming days 10 other "illegal churches" will be demolished. Some Christian families have already fled, fearing an escalation of violence.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, is often the scene of attacks or acts of intolerance against minorities, Christians, Ahmadi Muslims or of other faiths. In Aceh - unique in the Archipelago - applies the Islamic law (Sharia), following a peace agreement between Jakarta and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM), and in many other areas (such as Bekasi and Bogor West Java) is becoming more extreme and radical vision of Islam.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, has seen a rise in the number of attacks or acts of intolerance against minorities, including Christians, Ahmadi Muslims and others. In the province of Aceh - the only in the Archipelago to apply Islamic law ( Sharia ) - following a peace agreement between the central government and the Free Aceh Movement ( GAM ) , the application of a radical form of Islam among citizens is becoming more extreme

However, the decision to toughen laws, regulations, rules and customs has failed to find favour with a large proportion of the local population, forced to change long held customs and habits.

Many  in Aceh oppose greater restrictions, especially with regards to women wearing jeans and tight skirts , travelling astride motorcycles, or dancing in public because they "stir desire" and a ban on St. Valentines Day. The latest case concerns the decision to introduce a "curfew" for women, officially to reduce sexual harassment.

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