Jakarta, Indonesia - Concern is growing among Christians in the province of Aceh, victims of a series of recent attacks by extremist groups or unknown assailants. The violence is worsened by the policy of local authorities, who instead of halting attacks, continues closing churches and prayer halls for the (alleged) lack of building permits, required for all construction in Indonesia (religious and non-religious). In the document published these days, the Christian Alliance of United North Sumatra denounces that since last May at least 20 house churches or prayer chapels have been closed down by Singkil regency officials. Among these, ten belonged to the Pakpak Dairi Christian Protestant Church (Gkppd) and four were Catholic.
In a statement released today, the leaders of the United Alliance of North Sumatra say that the attacks are of "growing concern", given that there is no "protection or recognition" for all religious groups, above all minorities. The situation in Singkil in particular is getting worse, with gross violations of religious freedom which is " recognized officially by our Constitution." Christian leaders also point the finger at the central government in Jakarta, which does not intervene in cases where individual local governments violate the rights and freedoms of citizens, particularly non-Muslims.
The statement also recalls the last episode of violence in Singkil regency on July 18. At dawn the Pakpak Dairi Christian Protestant Church (Gkppd) house of prayer was attacked and set on fire by a group of strangers. Pews and several musical instruments were destroyed, but the prompt intervention of the faithful prevented the complete destruction of the building. Inside the structure about 15 liters of petrol were found, so far investigators have not identified any culprit.
The province of Aceh, the westernmost of the archipelago of Indonesia, is also the only one which is subject to Sharia, compliance with which is ensured by the "moral police", a special force that punishes violations in dress and behavior. In the past, under the leadership of Governor Irwandy Yusuf - head of the guerrilla war - a relative calm and religious harmony between the Muslim majority and "foreigners" of various non-Islamic faiths prevailed. However, recently the situation has changed: attacks against religious minorities have started, the fundamentalist wing has gained more power and freedom of action.
In elections last April, the victor was Zaini Abdullah, also leader of the separatist guerrillas in exile in Sweden, who has promised to fight corruption and impose Islamic law (see AsiaNews 04/18/2012 Aceh's new governor Zaini Abdullah pledges more Sharia). The strict application of Sharia is one of the conditions also posed by separatist rebels in Jakarta, to end the armed struggle. As evidence of the growing interfaith tension in the recent past, the area was the scene of violence and attacks against Christian communities, which led to the closure of places of worship (see AsiaNews 07/05/2012 Extremist threats in Aceh: authorities close three churches and AsiaNews 19/06/2012 Hundreds of Muslim extremists attack Christian prayer house in Aceh). Further adding to tensions and violence is the closures of churches and places of worship in the area, arranged by the authorities who claim they are without the proper building permits (the infamous IMB, Izin Mendirikan Bangunan).