Asia

Indonesian authorities demolish churches in Aceh

Indonesian officials tear down a church during the demolition of several churches by the local government in Singkil, Aceh province 19 October 2015 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Government workers have been tearing down churches

Indonesian authorities have begun tearing down churches in Aceh province amid rising religious tension.

Last week, hundreds of Muslim men burnt down three churches. Defending Christians killed one Muslim attacker.

Indonesian authorities say they are demolishing the churches because they lack building permits.

Parishioners looked on as government workers used sledgehammers to destroy three churches, with a further seven due to be demolished.

Authorities say the Christian community had agreed to the demolition.

About 200 military and police guarded government workers as they knocked the churches down. The congregation of the churches had been requested to demolish them but refused.

"How can we do it? It is the church we built to pray. It is impossible [for us to take it down]," said Paima Berutu, a leader of one the churches destroyed.

"Some of us watched [the demolition] from afar. Man and women. It was painful," he told the BBC.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption A further seven churches are scheduled to be demolished
Image copyright EPA
Image caption Three churches were burnt down last week

Last week's violence saw one Catholic and two Protestant churches burnt down.

In response, Indonesia's President Joko Widodo tweeted: "Stop the violence in Aceh Singkil. Any background of violence, especially religion and belief, destroys diversity."

The week before the attack, protesters calling themselves Aceh Youth Concerned for Islam held a demonstration demanding that what they claimed were unlicensed churches be torn down by authorities.

Tension in Aceh has been rising amid increasing Islamic conservatism in the province and Indonesia as a whole.

Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, although it also has significant Christian, Hindu, Buddhist and Confucian minorities.

Aceh is the only province to have officially introduced Sharia law, which is increasingly being applied to non-Muslims too.

Thousands of Christians are believed to have fled to neighbouring provinces.

Another church was also burnt down in Aceh in August. And in July, a mosque was destroyed in the Christian-majority province of Papua, in eastern Indonesia, on the Islamic holy day of Eid al-Fitr.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption In 2013, police warned Christians of possible Islamic attacks during Christmas and New Year

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