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'End discrimination against Christians in Aceh Singkil'

Jakarta Post - April 23, 2016

Representatives of Aceh Singkil Christian residents have filed a report with the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), accusing their local government of discriminating against them in the courts and schools, as well as when it came to obtaining their church's construction permit.

"We hope the central government will check the facts in the field and resolve these problems," said Boas Tumangger, a resident and head of Aceh Singkil Peace Forum (Forcidas), in Jakarta on Friday.

Hundreds of people grouped under the Islamic Youth Movement (PPI) attacked Suka Makmur village in Aceh Singkil and burned down the Huria Kristen Indonesia (HKI) church on Oct. 13, 2015.

One of the alleged perpetrators was shot dead, while three others were injured when residents tried to defend the church. The incident led to around 7,000 people leaving Aceh Singkil to seek shelter in North Sumatra.

Previously, several mass organizations protested in early October to the Singkil regency demanding churches without proper permits be torn down. The regency planned to demolish 10 churches on Oct. 19. However, the masses then decided to do the tearing down themselves and attacked the areas where congregations were standing guard to safeguard their houses of worship.

"There are 24 churches in Aceh Singkil regency, but only one of them has a permit, which was awarded in 1935," Boas said, adding: "It does not mean the Christians have been unwilling to arrange permits, but the red tape is so complicated."

To obtain a construction permit or a church, approval from several parties in a given area must be secured first. These parties include the village head, regent, religious affairs office, public works (PU) agency, national land agency (BPN) and the inter-religious harmony forum (FKUB).

Obtaining approval from the Aceh provincial government also comes with additional requirements, including having a congregation of at least 150 people and gained the support of at least 120 residents of the area in which the church is to be built. However, the 2006 joint ministerial decree of the Religious and Home Affairs Ministry only requires a congregation of 90 and the support of 60 residents.

Boas further said, in April 2016, FKUB has repeatedly rejected the permit proposals of 13 churches in Aceh Singkil, while another 10 have been torn down previously.

"Why does this happen only to the Christians? Have all the Muslims already fulfilled their administrative requirements [for mosque construction permits]?" Ramli Manik, a Muslim religious leader of Aceh Singkil, said in Jakarta on Friday. "The local administration has failed to protect the Christians' right to worship," he added

Meanwhile, Boas also condemned the Aceh Singkil District Court's decision on Thursday to sentence Hotma Uli Natanael Tumangger to six years in prison. He was accused of being involved in the shooting that occurred on Oct. 13, 2015, but Boas said that Hotma was just trying to defend the church.

Three of the perpetrators of the church burning were sentenced with six months in prison by the district court on the same day, while the agitator of the attack will go to jail for seven months.

Furthermore, Boas also reported that children were being discriminated against in Aceh Singkil's educational system, saying that there was not a single Christian religious studies teacher in the region. "In fact, 23 percent of Aceh Singkil residents are Christians. In January 2016, there were 17,288 Christians there," Boas said.

Following the reports from those residents, Komnas HAM plans to send representatives to Aceh Singkil to find solutions for the prolonged disputes. (vps/bbn)

Source: http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2016/04/23/end-discrimination-against-christians-in-aceh-singkil.html