Around 8,000 Christians in Indonesia’s Aceh Province have fled to neighbouring North Sumatra after religious violence broke out two weeks ago. At least one person was killed and eight were injured in clashes which followed an arson attack on the Indonesian Christian Church (HKI) by Islamic fundamentalists.
Tensions have reportedly subsided and local governments are now working to repatriate displaced Christians, but terror messages circulated by Muslim radicals have made many Christians fearful about returning to Aceh.
The week before the attack, hundreds of Muslim extremists began to demand that all churches in Aceh Singkil be closed. Text messages were sent to incite other Muslims to demolish all churches that had no worship building permits.
In response, the regency office held a meeting on 12 October with local leaders of Islamic schools and organisations in which they agreed to demolish ten of the unregistered churches.
But before the agreed dates came into effect, the very next day a 700-strong mob marched to the government offices. They then torched the church, even though it wasn’t on the closure list.
Allegedly, some Christians took up arms and started firing at the approaching assailants. In the clash that followed a Muslim man was shot dead and eight others were injured.
After the shooting, the radical group retreated, however a message circulated by the group read: “We will not stop hunting Christians and burning churches. Christians are Allah’s (God) enemies!”
Many of the 8,000 Christians who left Aceh following the violence are being sheltered by local churches, schools, and government offices.
In a report received by Open Doors, a witness on the ground explained that, “The displaced Christians live in scarcity and desperately need clean water, food, clothes, baby food, blankets, and medicines.”
However, with Muslim extremists guarding the border with an order to kill any Christians crossing the line, reaching the displaced people with relief is a challenge for Christian aid workers as it means taking dangerous roads through the jungle.
In a press conference, General Secretary of the Indonesian Fellowship of Churches (PGI), Gomar Gultom, criticised the local government of Aceh Singkil for allowing the violence to take place, “The meeting between the community and religious leaders was facilitated by the state, as if endorsing the civil society to carry out violence.”
Aceh is the only province that enforces Sharia (Islamic law), making it one of the most hostile places for Indonesian non-Muslims, especially Christians.
In 2006, a ministerial decree made it necessary for worship houses to obtain a religious building license under stringent requirements. Even after all requirements are met, many churches are still prevented from getting the permit. Furthermore, in 2013 the National Commission of Human Rights stated that over 80% of worship houses in the country lack such licence, including mosques but, unlike churches, unregistered mosques are hardly contested by civil groups.
“For us, safety goes beyond the physical,” said a pastor whose church was also burned last month. “It means that we can have our church back and can exercise our freedom to worship.”
Source: Open Doors
We support people who are beaten, tortured,
imprisoned, falsely accused, and hated simply for following Jesus.