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Published On: Wed, Nov 18th, 2015

The ‘religious harmony law’ forces over 1,000 churches in Indonesia to close

Indonesia’s “religious harmony” law has closed more than 1,000 Christian churches in the country.
Indonesia passed the law in 2006 and requires religious minority groups to have 60 signatures of approval from Christians and 90 signatures from other faiths before building a church.
“It shows the failures of the religious harmony regulation,” Human Rights Watch researcher Andreas Harsono told Foreign Policy. “It discriminates [against] minorities, thus making way for the majority, mostly Muslim hard-liners in Indonesia, to pressure the government to close down churches.”
In October, an Indonesian province saw violence after Muslims complained to officials that 10 churches there were illegally constructed. Authorities said the churches would be destroyed, but a mob arrived and burned down a church. The law sparked violence that eventually scared about 8,000 Indonesian Christians from their homes in Aceh province.
map of Indonesia

Photo/CIA

When a Presbyterian group organized and attempted to start a new Christian house of worship in Jakarta, the move was halted with accusations of using false signatures, and its license was frozen.

In another case, a church earned approval from the local government to build a church, but permission was later denied.
Officials shut down the temporary structure where the church had been meeting.
“We are doing more than just getting our church building,” church member Bona Sigalingging toldthe Global Post. “This is our attempt to keep Indonesia a country for all. Indonesia is not a country based on any one religion.”

In August, the World Evangelical Alliance’s Religious Liberty Commission criticized president Joko Widodo for doing little to fight against the country’s Islamic extremists.

“The parliament is dominated by opposition parties, some of which are Islamist and can make it difficult for the president to function,” it stated. “However, just as Jokowi has managed to win their support for passing important bills, it is not impossible for him to make his way to adopt a strict policy in the area of law and order. After all, every incident of blocking of worship services, violent attacks, and closure of churches is a blatant violation of law.”

photo Simon Dean Media via Flickr

photo Simon Dean Media via Flickr

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