Christians in Aceh, a semi-autonomous province of Indonesia, have called upon the central government in Jakarta to take action in an ongoing dispute over the demolition of church buildings. Local authorities in the Singkil district of Aceh demolished nine church buildings in 2015, leaving many Christians without a permanent place in which to worship.
The Singkil authorities claimed that an agreement had been made between Muslims and Christians in 1980 that only one church would be built, and that this allowed them to demolish nine of the district’s ten churches.
Boas Tumangger, a member of one of the churches, said that the appeal to central government was necessary as officials in Singkil had no interest in helping them. In reference to the forthcoming Indonesian Independence Day on 17 August, Tumangger commented, “We are not independent because we still face discrimination and intolerance by local authorities.”
Antonius Benny Susetyo, a church minister and member of a community-tolerance advisory group to Indonesian President Joko Widodo, said that the matter was now being considered by Religious Affairs Minister Yaqut Cholil Quomas, adding that, “This is a national problem in the context of religious tolerance, so it must be settled.”
Aceh is the only province in Muslim-majority Indonesia governed by sharia (Islamic law). In June 2020 a Barnabas Fund contact reported that “In Aceh, there is no freedom of religion and, since sharia law was enacted a few years ago, the number of Christians and churches is decreasing in the province.”
In recent years Indonesia as a whole has seen a rise in hard-line Islamic ideology. President Joko, however, has taken steps to combat Islamism, including dissolving two hard-line Islamic organisations (Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia and the Islamic Defenders Front) and appointing a Christian as national police chief.
In July, Joko’s son Gibran Rakabuming Raka, the mayor of Surakarta, called for the closure of an Islamic school after pupils desecrated graves at a Christian cemetery.