‘Shame and humiliation’: Aceh’s Islamic law violates human rights
Punishments under Sharia are rooted in cultural traditions and few are willing to speak publicly against it.
The 35-year-old cannot even remember what the people were accused of – just that they were taken to a public square at a local mosque and flogged with a rattan cane in front of a crowd of onlookers.
But in recent years, Hendra, a lecturer in communications at Ar-Raniry University in Banda Aceh, has started to feel differently.
Now he avoids public canings. “I always think, ‘Imagine if that was a member of my family’,” he told Al Jazeera. “Do these people really deserve this?”
Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra, is one of Indonesia’s most religiously conservative areas, and is the only part of the archipelago to impose penalties on its residents under Islamic law.
Once one of the most powerful Islamic sultanates in Southeast Asia, the area had long used an informal kind of Islamic law mixed with local laws, known as “hukum adat”. But the legislation was enhanced when Aceh’s long-running separatist conflict ended in 2005. The laws have been gradually expanded to more offences, most recently in 2014.
“Sharia police monitor public behaviour and enforce the rules, including in relation to the clothing women choose to wear,” Usman Hamid, the executive director of Amnesty Indonesia, told Al Jazeera.
“People can be subjected to public canings for a range of offences, including gay sex, which carries a penalty of up to 100 lashes, sex before or outside marriage, gambling and the sale and consumption of alcohol.”
The practice had already caused shock among the international community, and after Brunei attracted global condemnation over its plan to step up punishments under Islamic law, attention also turned to Aceh.