Indonesia begins church demolitions under Islamist pressure

Residents cry as they attend a Sunday mass prayer near a burned church at Suka Makmur Village in Aceh Singkil, Indonesia Aceh province, on October 18, 2015.Reuters

Islamic authorities in Indonesia's Aceh province have demolished three churches claiming that they lacked the proper building permits.

The churches are the first of 10 scheduled for demolition after pressure from local Muslims.

According to a Breitbart report, churches have repeatedly asked for permission to build churches but have been refused.

Paima Brutu, the pastor of one of the demolished churches, said: "We applied for permission to build a thousand times. At this point we want to know whether the government will ever allow us to have it."

The chairwoman of Indonesia's Churches Federation, Henriette Hutabarat-Lebang, said that churches are only built without the proper permits as a last resort.

"But in reality, [obtaining] a permit to build a house of worship is very difficult, and they often cannot be obtained [at all]," she said.

The churches in question are wooden structures known as "undung-undung" or small churches. Demonstrators representing "Aceh Youth Concerned for Islam" complained last month that the number of churches built by Christians exceeds the maximum number agreed in 1979, which limited the number of Christian churches in the Singkil area to one, along with four undung-undung. However, an increase in the region's Christian population has led to a growth in church-building. "There are now 23 undung-undung. It has become chaos," said Singkil's regent, Safriadi Manik.

Aceh is Indonesia's only Islamic province and has seen violence directed against religious minorities. Last week, a mob burned two churches and when Christians tried to defend them a riot broke out, leaving one man dead and four others wounded.

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."

Up to 4,000 Christians have already left the area out of fear of further violence. Some 1,300 police and military officers have been deployed in the area to protect the churches and local population.