05/07/2012, 00.00
INDONESIA

Extremist threats in Aceh: authorities close three churches

Mathias Hariyadi
Two Catholic and one Protestant place of worship. Among these, the Napagaluh Catholic prayer chapel, a "historic" building open for 38 years with no record of incidents or complaints. Local government claims they lack building permits. In reality closure due to protests of local Islamic fringe.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - The ongoing protests by a Muslim extremist fringe has led to the closure of three Christian places of worship in the province of Aceh, the only province in Indonesia where Shariah (Islamic law) is enacted. According to the radical movement the churches were illegal and they have demanded - under threat - the intervention of the authorities. The local administration used the pretext of an alleged lack of building permits, to seal up the buildings. One of the three is a small - historical - Catholic chapel, open for almost 40 years and full of faithful during celebrations. Although an overwhelmingly Muslim area, the province of Aceh has always been characterized by a "spirit of tolerance" and this is the "first case" of an intervention by authorities against places of worship of the Christian minority.

The authorities closed the three Christian buildings in Aceh last May: the Catholic Church in Napagaluh, Singkil, a sub-district of Paris Danau, the Protestant Gereja Kristen Pakpak Dairi, and also the Napagaluh Catholic Church of St. Paul, in the village of Lae Balno. A Singkil district official explains that, according to law, they are all without a building permit (IMB, Izin Mendirikan Bangunan).

The Napagaluh Catholic church, in fact, is a "small, historic" prayer chapel - undung-undung in the local language - which opened in 1974 and is attended by dozens of faithful each week for the liturgies. In 38 years there were never any incidents, protests or tensions with local residents, who are overwhelmingly Muslim.

The closure is the result of a long series of protests promoted in recent times, by Islamic extremist movements in the area. Among these the Singkil Muslim Forum, which denounces the "proliferation" of Christian churches in the region. In particular, they point their finger at the construction of 27 houses of prayer, when, according to a "consensual agreement" reached in 2001 between Christians and Muslims, the expected number is only one permanent church and four undung -undung.

The Catholic Napagaluh church within the jurisdiction of the parish of Tumbajae Manduamas, belongs to the diocese of Sibolga, a suffragan of the Archdiocese of Medan (Sumatra). AsiaNews has contacted the local leaders of the Church who, at the present time, do not intend to comment or release a statement on the matter.

 

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