Three Christian churches in a conservative province in Indonesia were torn down Monday following deadly violence in the area last week, AFP reported. Indonesian security forces destroyed the churches following demands from hardline Muslim groups.
The province of Aceh is the only one in Indonesia that follows Islamic law -- known as Shariah. Local authorities used sledgehammers to destroy the two Protestant churches and one Catholic church, citing a lack of proper building permits for the three.
"There was no issue during the demolition as there was a joint agreement with the Christian community," said Abdul Manaf, a local official, speaking with AFP.
Violence swept Aceh last week with thousands of Christians fleeing for neighboring areas after Islamic groups set fire to a church and attacked a village, local newspaper the Jakarta Post reported. Police and military officers were outnumbered and failed to stop the attacks. The ensuing clashes left one Muslim dead while four people were injured.
"On a day-to-day basis, the communities live in peace with each other and there is no pressure to close down these churches," said Genti Brutu, the chief of a village in Aceh Singkil where churches were destroyed, speaking with Reuters. "But what we are told is that it is a matter of permits so we have to abide by the rules."
Approximately 20 churches in Aceh Singkil were accused of not having the proper permits, according to local newspaper the Jakarta Globe. Another seven churches could be destroyed in coming days increasing tensions between the Christian and Muslim communities. Local officials have closed churches in the past bowing to demands from hardline groups.
Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo called for tolerance last week.
“Stop the violence in Aceh Singkil,” he tweeted. “Violence of any kind, particularly one motivated by religion and faith, will only damage plurality.”
Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim nation known for its tolerant form of Islam. After a separatist movement, Aceh was granted special autonomy in 2005 following a peace deal allowing it to implement Sharia law. Gambling and drinking are both punishable by caning.