Bagus BT Saragih, Jakarta, Indonesia – Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi said on Thursday that the lack of legal permits from the local administration had been behind the closure of nine churches in Banda Aceh, which had reportedly caused hundreds of Christians in the Aceh provincial capital to live in fear.
"It was a permit matter, so it's actually not closures. I have talked to Aceh Governor [Zaini Abdullah] and he said that the permits were not issued because [the churches] failed to meet the requirements set by the joint ministerial decree," Gamawan told the press at the Presidential Office.
The minister was referring to the 2006 Joint Ministerial Decree on the Construction of Houses of Worship, which has been controversial as it was considered to not be in line with the spirit of religious tolerance.
"If [the churches] managed to provide all the documents and met other requirements of the decree, the permits might have been issued. Just stick to the decree," said Gamawan, who is also a former governor of West Sumatra.
"Besides, many of [the churches] were actually not buildings designated to be houses of worship. Some were houses utilized for religious services," he added.
The Banda Aceh municipal administration has closed nine churches and five Buddhist temples across the city, with priests being reportedly forced to sign agreements stating they would close their churches following mounting pressure from local Islamists.
The congregations of the nine churches were advised to attend churches that had building permits, such as the Catholic Church, Western Indonesia Protestant Churches (GPIB) or Filadelfia Batak Protestant Churches (HKBP).
The closure of churches in Aceh has been going on for some time, which has raised concerns over growing intolerance that could lead to community conflicts.
In April this year, acting Aceh Singkil Regent Razali AR ordered the closure of 20 churches in a letter signed on April 30, which ordered members of the congregations to tear down the churches themselves by June 8, at the latest. (swd)