JAKARTA, INDONESIA (BosNewsLife) — A tense calm returned to a village in Indonesia's Central Maluku province, where angry Muslims torched churches, dozens of homes and other properties after a Christian teacher allegedly made comments insulting Islam, rights investigators said Wednesday, December 17.
Welhelmina Holle, a Christian elementary school teacher in the village of Letwaru village in the province's Masohi district,Ã‚ apparently made the remarks while tutoring a Muslim student last month, and has since been detained by local police on blasphemy charges, said Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC), which investigates reported persecution of Christians.
News of the blasphemy incident "spread throughout the Muslim community, sparking the Indonesian Ulema Council" representing Muslims, "to file a complaint against Holle to the police," VOMC added in a statement to BosNewsLife.
The group said some 500 Muslims protested in recent days outside the Central Maluku Education Agency, accusing Holle of blasphemy and calling for his dismissal. "The mob then gathered outside Central Maluku Police headquarters and demanded to meet with the police chief, but [was] informed that he was not on the premises…"
Protests soon turned violent, with several Muslims reportedly burning at least two churches, 65 homes, a health clinic and several vehicles on December 9. Police and soldiers eventually intervened, preventing more damage, Christians said.
However on Wednesday, December 17, Holle "remained in detention" for blasphemy, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of 15 years imprisonment, according to VOMC. Government officials have promised to rebuild churches and homes, but it was not clear when the reconstruction would begin.
There have been mounting tensions between Christian communities and Muslims in Indonesia's, the world's most populous Islamic nation, with reports of attacks against churches in several areas, Christians said.
In one of the more serious incidents, the mainly Christian village Horale, in a remote area of Maluku province, was nearly completely razed to the ground this year by an angry mob, injuring 56 Christians and "brutally killing four, including an 84-year-old man and a six-year-old girl," explained rights group Barnabas Fund.
The local school, three churches and 120 houses "were burnt down and crops, fishing boats and motor-cycles destroyed," said Barnabas Fund, which supports Christians in especially Muslim nations. "The villagers fled to the jungle to hide from the attackers," following the May 2 violence, explained the group, which is involved in reconstructing Horale.
Christians comprise roughly nine percent of the country's mainly Muslim population of over 237 million people, according to estimates by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
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