By BosNewsLife Asia Service
JAKARTA, INDONESIA (BosNewsLife)– Islamic authorities in Indonesia’s conservative Aceh province have begun destroying several small churches after hardline Muslims demanding their reportedly killed at least one Christian.
The influential group Islamic Defenders Front and other local Muslim residents had demanded that at least 10 churches be closed.
Citing a lack of building permits, local officials have been seen tearing down church buildings in recent days, BosNewsLife established Friday, October 30.
Witnesses said police in Aceh Singkil district used sledgehammers and axes to tear down the churches – little more than small, wooden structures – as Christian members of the community looked on, many of them weeping.
“Whether or not we agree, we are going ahead with it,” said Paima Brutu, 35, caretaker of one Protestant church that was closed. He told Reuters news agency that the church had about 100 members.
“We have applied for the building permit again and again so at this point all we’re asking the government is to be allowed to have that permit,” he said.
The closures come after a meeting on Sunday of local political and religious figures, including Christians, in which all sides agreed to close the houses of worship, officials present at the meeting said.
However the crackdown added to tensions in the province’s Aceh Singkil district where one man was reportedly killed and four others were wounded during violent clashes at a church on October 13 when Christians tried to defend their church building against hundreds of armed militants.
The man shot in the head was believed to be a Christian, though police declined to confirm his identity. Police said in published remarks that aggressive hardliners “took matters into their own hands.”
Militants instigating the forceful closures allegedly also burned down four churches in southern Aceh.
In published remarks, Indonesian President Joko Widodo appealed for calm and ordered officials to take firm action to “establish peace and religious harmony.”
The anti-Christian violence comes amid Western concerns over the strict interpretation of ‘Shariah’, or Islamic, law in the province.
Indonesia’s central government granted Aceh the right to implement a version of Shariah law in 2006 as part of a peace deal to end a separatist war.
People convicted of adultery, gambling and consuming alcohol already face caning, as well as women wearing tight clothes and men who skip Friday prayers.
Last week, Aceh’s government enacted a strict Islamic criminal code, criminalizing adultery, homosexuality, and public displays of affection outside of a legally recognized relationship.
Observers say Aceh is the only province in the Muslim-dominated country to adhere to Shariah, while in other provinces the vast majority of the population practices a moderate form of the religion.
However Christians and churches have often been singled out for attacks in several parts of Indonesia,
including in Aceh, according to rights groups.
Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population.
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