06/19/2012, 00.00
INDONESIA
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Hundreds of Muslim extremists attack Christian prayer house in Aceh

by Mathias Hariyadi
The building was hit by stones and pebbles, suffering major damages. The place of worship belongs to a Protestant group, the Indonesian Bethel Church. According to fundamentalist, the place lacks the right building permit. Violence in the province is up.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - A mob of Muslim extremists attacked a Christian prayer house in Aceh Province. The building was damaged and worshippers were forced to stop the service. Local witnesses, who asked their names be withheld, said that the attack occurred last Sunday, during worship. The place itself belongs to the Indonesian Bethel Church.

The fundamentalist attack was apparently caused by a lack of building permit (Izin Mendirikan Bangunan in Indonesian), a claim Christians deny. More disheartening for the members of the congregation is the fact that the attack occurred under the eyes of the police, which did not lift a finger, except to place seals on the building after the incident.

The Indonesian Bethel Church where the attack took place is located in Peunayong, capital of the province of Banda Aceh.

The mob struck during Sunday prayer. Hundreds of attackers hurled stones and pebbles against the building, causing major damages to the structures.

Eyewitnesses confirmed that the police stood idly by as the incident unfolded, whilst worshippers had to evacuate the building, seeking refuge in a safer location.

Human rights activists and associations slammed the extremist raid, noting that it occurred in a place that had been characterised by relative calm and a "pluralistic environment".

Aceh, Indonesia's westernmost province, is also the only part of the archipelago where Sharia is enforced. Provincial authorities use a morality police, a special street-level law enforcement unit, to crack down on people who violate the local moral code.

Under Governor Irwandy Yusuf, a former rebel fighter, there was some degree of interreligious peace and harmony between the Muslim majorities and non-Muslim "foreigners". However, things have recently changed. As fundamentalists gained more power and freedom to act, religious  minorities have come under attack.

In last April's elections, long-time exiled (in Sweden) former separatist leader Zaini Abdullah easily won on a platform centred on fighting corruption and enforcing Islamic law.

As signs of growing interreligious tensions multiply, local Christian communities have seen attacks and acts of violence, included the forced closure of their places of worship, increase.

Indonesia has a history of moralisation campaigns in the name of Sharia and Muslim customs, which are particular rigid in Aceh. The most recent case involved a ban on miniskirts, a moralisation campaign led by ulemas against yoga and tobacco, and police action against people wearing jeans and tight skirts.

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