wnstn | Flickr.com
wnstn | Flickr.com

Indonesia officially requires that freedom of religion be ensured for all citizens, but that has not stopped authorities from finding ways to show Christians they are not welcome in the Muslim-majority country. The latest in Christian persecutions is the sudden closure of churches in Sumatra without warning or explanation. The International Christian Concern said that Sumatran authorities likely stated that the grounds for the closure of the churches were “administrative reasons,” a loophole which would allow them to circumvent the legal protections for religious freedom.

Gomar Gultom, the General Secretary for the Communion of Churches in Indonesia, said she does not understand why authorities insist on singling out Christian churches. “There are thousands of other places of worship that don’t have permits, but continue to operate. I just can’t understand why they won’t let us have our churches,” Gultom said. “I can understand if the local government prohibited us from having the permits if we used the buildings for criminal activities, but we used them to praise God.”

The Communion of Churches in Indonesia is sending a legal team to Sumatra to challenge the closures, but Gultom is hoping to use a “cultural approach, rather than a legal approach” to secure the reopening of the churches. That said, she has made it clear that the Communion of Churches in Indonesia will pursue legal redresses if necessary.

Aan Anshori, coordinator of the Islamic Anti-Discrimination Network, condemned the closing of the churches. “Islamic teaching seems to fail to understand that other religions, especially Christianity, need to be respected in a democratic country like Indonesia,” Anshori said.  “But there’s a strong impression that other religions are considered enemies of Islam. It shows that there is something wrong in Islamic teaching and also in understanding the rights of all citizens, no matter what their religion.”

More than 1,000 churches have been closed in the last decade in Indonesia, and those that remain open have been attacked by suicide bombers as well as being targeted by extremists in other ways. The increase in such attacks and attempts to tighten blasphemy laws have caused Indonesia to be ranked as the 38th worst country in the world for Christian persecution, and the situation may only continue to deteriorate as certain factions push for even stronger Islamic laws.

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