City administration in the provincial capital of Jambi, Indonesia, shut down three churches on Thursday 27 September, claiming they did not have a permit to meet.
Officials met with members of the churches’ management and told them to either relocate the churches several kilometres away or merge the three churches into one.
It is not the first time churches in the province have encountered problems due to issues with permits. In January 2014, local authorities halted construction work on at least five church buildings.
A law introduced in 2006 requires applications for Christian places of worship to be supported by signatures from 60 local, non-Christian households, making it extremely hard for congregations to obtain church building permits. Local officials have also been known to block churches, especially if they come under pressure from Islamists. According to official Indonesian government statistics, Muslims make up 95% of the population in the province of Jambi.
Indonesian Muslims and Christians lived peaceably as equals until about a generation ago. But Christians now face increasing discrimination and violence. This can especially be seen in the semi-autonomous province of Aceh were local authorities have implemented sharia law. Under pressure from Islamist hardliners, Indonesian officials destroyed twelve churches in Aceh province in 2015 and, in 2016, there were cases of Christians being flogged for breaches of sharia.
Jambi is located on the east coast of the Indonesian Island of Sumatra, 1,875 miles to the west of Sulawesi where the earthquake and tsunami hit on 28 September – taking some 2,000 lives.