Christians in Indonesia’s Aceh province whose churches were burned and dismantled in 2015 have appealed to Komnas HAM to resolve the discrimination they claim they have faced.

The appeal follows the latest incident in which local authorities suspended construction of an official residence for the pastor of the Pakpak Dairi Protestant Church in Aceh Singkil district.

Boas Tumangger, Chairperson of the Aceh Singkil Love Peace Forum, a Christian association, claimed that the local government obliged the construction of houses to follow rules related to places of worship, which required the approval of followers of other religions.

“The government believes that the house will destroy interfaith harmony and have the potential to cause social conflict,” he wrote in a letter to the human rights commission.

He questioned the accusation and said it was the government’s duty and responsibility to reduce potential conflicts in the community.

Tumangger said church representatives had spoken with the government on August 27 but they were asked to stop construction and on September 3 they received their first warning letter.

The house is meant for pastors who will serve the community, which changes every five years, he told UCA News.

“We built it with the money collected from the congregation,” said Tumangger.

Saudan Berasa, chairman of the construction committee, guaranteed that the house would not be used for worship activities. “Therefore, there is no need to follow the rules for establishing places of worship,” he said.

He said he would continue the development process and hoped the government would facilitate it.

Aceh, the only province that applies Sharia law in Indonesia, issued a regional regulation or qanun in 2016 requiring the construction of houses of worship to be signed by 140 congregations and 110 followers of other religions.

The regulation has received strong protests from Christian groups and activists because it is stricter than the central government stipulation in a 2006 regulation which only demands the signatures of 90 congregations and 60 people from other religions.

The regulation also requires written recommendations from several parties including the village head.

In 2015, a church was burnt down by a mob and nine other churches demolished for allegedly not following the rules.

Tumangger said that until now the congregation whose church was burned and dismantled was holding services in a tent.

He said that although the cases of burning and demolishing the church had not been resolved, the case against the pastor’s house had exacerbated the discrimination they faced.

“We always feel insecure and anxious about this discrimination,” he said.

Beka Ulung Hapsara, a member of Komnas HAM, said he had received the complaint and had asked the Ministry of Religion and the Coordinating Ministry for Political, Legal and Security Affairs to address the issue.

He said the biggest obstacle at this time was government policy.

“We are gathering facts in the field as material for recommendations and dialogue with the government so that the resolution of the problem in Aceh Singkil can be permanent,” he told UCA News.

Source : ucanews


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