JAKARTA, INDONESIA (BosNewsLife)-- Christians in Indonesia's semi-autonomous province of Aceh faced a tense Sunday, July 1, after local authorities ordered the demolition of 20 churches.
Razali Abdul Rahman, the acting regent of Aceh Singkil Regency in Aceh, signed the letter already on April 30, but details recently emerged.
He ordered the closure of 17 Protestant churches, two Catholic churches and one place of worship belonging to followers of a local nondenominational faith, The Jakarta Post newspaper said.
Rights activists said the announcement came after 16 smaller Christian places of worship were recently closed in the same district.
Rahman ordered members of the targeted congregations "to tear down" the churches themselves.
CHRISTIANS WORSHIP ANYWAY
Despite the threats, Christians in most of the 20 churches to be demolished were expected to gather again Sunday, July 1, inside their sealed off buildings.
Indonesia's Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi has reportedly said that he is not aware of the closure plans and would contact Razali to ask for clarification.
He stressed that citizens "had a right to worship as long as they complied with regulation."
Yet, Christians say local authorities backed by Islamic hardliners often interpret rules differently.
INCREASED RELIGIOUS TENSIONS
Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation, has seen an increase in religious tensions and growing pressure on devoted minority Christians, according to church groups and rights activists.
Among those targeted are Christians in the city of Bekasi on West Java province where members of the Filadelfia Batak Protestant Churches (HKBP) continue to be regularly assaulted and harassed by Muslims when they try to conduct Sunday services, The Jakarta Post reported.
The Bekasi regency sealed off the church site in 2010 after local residents objected to the construction of the church.
The regency has refused to open the site even after the Bandung State Administrative Court ruled in favor of HKBP Filadelfia.