OFFICIALS in Indonesia have closed down three Christian churches for unspecified “administrative reasons” as Muslim communities in parts of the country push for stronger Islamic laws.
Authorities shut the places of worship on the island of Sumatra without providing any explanation, the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI) said.
International Christian Concern (ICC) said authorities likely cited “administrative reasons” as grounds for the closure to get around a legal requirement to ensure freedom of religion to all citizens.
The organisation says over the past 10 years, more than 1,000 churches have been closed across the country.
And in May, three suicide bombers killed at least 11 people when they targeted churches in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city.
The PGI is now sending a legal team to Alam Barajo, a village in Sumatra’s Jambi province, in a bid to challenge the closure.
Gomar Gultom, PGI General Secretary, said she did not know why the three churches were singled out.
She said: “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.
“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.”
She said the group hoped to use a “cultural approach, rather than a legal approach” to secure the re-opening of the churches.
But she added the PGI will launch a legal challenge if need be.
Aan Anshori, the coordinator of the Islamic Anti-Discrimination Network, said: “Islamic teaching seems to fail to understand that other religions, especially Christianity, need to be respected in a democratic country like Indonesia.
“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.”
Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim country.