Indonesia: 10 churches to be shut, yielding to hardline Muslim demands

Hardline Muslims in Indonesia's conservative Aceh province on Sunday demanded the local government close 10 Christian churches.Reuters

Authorities in Aceh, Indonesia have shut down several churches days after they were burned down by a mob of extremist Muslims.

Local government have capitulated to a group of hardline Muslims demanding they should be shut, and deemed the churches illegal.

"Ten churches have been identified as having proper permits and should be closed", said Hambali Sinaga, the head of the hard-line group Defenders Front.

Religious tension has been building in Aceh, the only province in Indonesia where Sharia Law has been officially introduced and is increasingly being imposed upon non-Muslims.

Local government said they have discussed the issue with Christian groups and religious leaders in Singkil district Aceh, where the churches are located. 

The Christian community has admitted that six churches were technically illegal due to a lack of building permits and agreed to dismantle them.

"All houses of worship, regardless of the religion, need to be in accordance with the laws of Aceh," Bardan Sahidi, a member of the provincial parliament, told Reuters.

Since 2006, for a church to be legal, church officials must provide signatures of 90 congregation members and have written support from at least 60 locals and the village chief.

The closure of these churches comes after violent escalations in the province; last week two churches were burnt down by Muslim groups.

The President of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, has condemned the attacks and called on all parties to halt the violence, saying "Stop violence in Aceh Singkil. Any act of violence, whatever the reasons behind it, not to mention if it is related to religion and faith, will kill diversity."

"We are still afraid that an incident could occur again if [the situation is] not handled properly," a congregation member said on Wednesday. Up to 4,000 Christians have already left the area out of fear of further violence.

Some 1,300 police and military officers have since been deployed in the area to protect the churches and local population.