Two churches in Aceh province of Indonesia were deliberately burnt down by a mob of hundreds of Islamist radicals. Husein Hamidi, Aceh’s chief of police said “After burning the church, the crowd—made up mostly of members of the Muslim Youth Forum—tried to attack another but ran into opposition from Christians”. A riot erupted when Christians tried to defend their churches, during which one man was killed and four others injured.
After the arson attacks on their churches, thousands of Christians fearing an escalation of violence fled Aceh Singkil regency for neighboring regencies in North Sumatra. Tensions between the majority Muslim population and other religious minorities remain high in Aceh. Several Christian churches are scheduled for demolition by the authorities, ostensibly for not having proper building permits – which Christians found impossible to obtain after making dozens of planning applications that were ignored. Soldiers have been deployed near churches facing demolition orders to prevent further violence.
Aceh became the only Indonesian province to come under Sharia law (the Islamic legal code) in February 2014 when the Aceh provincial administration approved the “Qanun Jinayat” that obligies every person in Aceh without exception, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, to follow Sharia law.
A large part of the local population in Aceh is resisting the strict laws and regulations that were forced on the people, such as banning the celebration of Valentine’s Day, following the imposition of Sharia law. The new rules are particularly strict on women who are no longer allowed to wear jeans or tight skirts, travel astride motorcycles or dance in public. There is even a curfew for women now, which the authorities claim is meant to protect them from sexual harassment.
ACN ranks the level of Christian persecution in Indonesia as “HIGH” in 2015. The latest ACN Report Persecuted and Forgotten? notes that the situation in Indonesia from 1013-2015 is worse than it was in 2011-2013. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has also placed Indonesia on its “Tier 2” list (countries whose governments engage in or tolerate serious violations of religious liberty) for 2015.