Representatives of Christian worshipers from Aceh Singkil regency, Aceh, demanded on Tuesday that the government take action against what they say is the wrongful closure of their churches.
Some 20 Christian houses of worship in Aceh Singkil regency have been closed since the Aceh Singkil administration decided on May 1 to begin sealing what the administration considers to be illegally built churches.
The administration reportedly used 1979 and 2001 regional agreements to justify the closures.
These agreements, designed to prevent conflict between Christians and Muslims in Aceh Singkil, stipulate that there must be no more than one church and four chapels built in the entire Aceh Singkil regency.
Christian representatives from Aceh Singkil said that these agreements are outdated and no longer reflect current realities.
"The agreements may have made sense back then when the Christian populations were small. But now, there are 15,000 Christian worshipers of various denominations living in Aceh Singkil. They all can't possibly fit into one church and four chapels," Veryanto Sitohang, executive director of the United North Sumatra Alliance (ASB), said on Tuesday when visiting The Jakarta Post’s office.
Christian representatives also told the Post that it would not make sense to use regulations or agreements made during and after 1979 to close churches built before that year.
"Many of these churches were built during Dutch colonial rule, long before Indonesia even achieved its independence," said Reverend Erde Brutu of Pakpak Dairi Christian Protestant Church (GKPPD) in Suro district, Aceh Singkil. He was also present at the Post’s office.
A GKPPD church in Aceh Singkil's Simpang Kanan district, for instance, was built in 1932. Erde's church was built in 1952.
Furthermore, Tigor Padang, a member of an Aceh Singkil Christian community forum, said that Muslim neighbors who live in the same villages as the Christians had no problems with the existence of Christian houses of worship.
Instead, representatives said, the only Muslims who have problems with the churches are those who live outside the villages that have Christian populations.
They noted that there was a 300-person pro-closure demonstration outside the Aceh Singkil regency office on April 30 that featured a strong presence of the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front (FPI).
As a result of the closures, Christians in the area have had to worship in secret. Their churches may have been sealed, but they said that they have had no other choice but to worship in the sealed churches. They would enter the churches through back or side doors.
"When it comes to things like marriages, we obviously have no other alternatives but to use our closed churches. But we've always had to have our members keep a lookout for people who may want to attack us while we're worshiping," Erde told the Post. (png/mtq)