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Indonesia: Aceh Province Law Expands Caning Punishment to Adultery and Homosexual Acts

(Oct. 28, 2015) A provincial law on criminal offenses under Sharia law, passed in 2014, came into effect on October 23, 2015, in Indonesia’s Aceh Province, the only part of the country that enforces Islamic Sharia law. (Aceh Regulation No. 6, 2014, Aceh government website (Oct. 22, 2014).) The local regulation prescribes a punishment of 100 strokes of a cane for adultery, public displays of affection by unmarried couples, or any homosexual act. The regulation applies to local residents and to foreigners in the province. (Ashley Hogan, Indonesia’s Aceh Province Begins to Enforce Anti-Gay Law, PAPER CHASE (Oct. 23, 2015); Indonesia’s Aceh Introduces Strict Anti-Gay Law, BBC NEWS (Oct. 23, 2015); Reza Munawir, Indonesia’s Aceh Province Enacts Islamic Criminal Code, SYDNEY MORNING HERALD (Oct. 24, 2015).) The canings will be public, reportedly designed to shame those punished. (Munawir, supra.)

The regulation, the Aceh Islamic Criminal Code (Qanun Jinayat), adds to the number of offenses for which caning is a punishment in Aceh. The offenses punished that way under previous provincial regulations include gambling, consumption of alcohol, and fraternizing with the opposite sex outside of marriage. According to Syahrizal Abbas, the Head of the Department of Islamic Sharia of Aceh, the law does not violate the human rights of gay individuals because they can live together as long as there is no sexual relationship. He explained that “[i]t is forbidden because in the sharia context, the act is vile. … It brings [an] unhealthy psychological impact to human development, and it will affect the community.” (Id.; Press Release, Amnesty International, ASA 21/2726/2015, Indonesia: Repeal or Revise All Provisions in the New Aceh Islamic Criminal Code that Violate Human Rights (Oct. 23, 2015) (click on link to download text in pdf).)

Other Sharia-influenced regulations in the province include requirements that boys and girls be educated separately and that Muslim women wear a hijab (a scarf that covers the hair but not the face) and not straddle a motorcycle when riding with a driver. (Id.) Since June 2015, under an order from the mayor of Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, restaurants, sports venues, Internet cafes, and tourist attractions in the city are forbidden to host or serve women after 11:00 p.m., unless those women are accompanied by a male relative. (Constance Johnson, Indonesia: Curfew for Women in Provincial Capital, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (June 16, 2015).)

Reaction to the Provincial Regulation and Its Enforcement

The regulation was criticized by groups both within the province and abroad. (Hogan, supra.) Members of Violet Grey, an organization of gay and lesbian residents of Banda Aceh, concerned that the police might raid their office, began burning their paperwork. (Gayatri Suroyo & Charlotte Greenfield, Anti-Gay Law in Indonesia’s Aceh Province Forces LGBT People into Hiding, HUFFPOST GAY VOICES (Dec. 27, 2014, updated Feb. 26, 2015).)

Amnesty International (AI) expressed the fear that the regulation would add to the climate of homophobia. Joseph Benedict, the Southeast Asia campaign director for AI, said “[t]o punish anyone who has had consensual sex with up to 100 lashes is despicable. … This is a flagrant violation of human rights and must be repealed immediately.” (Munawir, supra.) AI’s report on the subject also called for the repeal of provisions that violate human rights, saying that they “represent a clear contravention of Indonesia’s Constitution and are a violation of international human rights treaties to which Indonesia is a state party.” (Indonesia: Repeal or Revise All Provisions in the New Aceh Islamic Criminal Code that Violate Human Rights, supra.)

Hendra Saputra, a spokesman for the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence, a human rights organization based in Indonesia, criticized the existing pattern of enforcement of Sharia law in Aceh, stating that it “has been sharp toward the bottom, and blunt toward the top. … Many cases involving officials do not result in canings, but ordinary people are often caned.” (Nurdin Hasan, Sharia Criminal Code Expands in Aceh, BENAR NEWS (Oct. 22, 2015); KontraS (Commission for the Disapeared [sic] and Victims of Violence, World Coalition Against the Death Penalty website (last visited Oct. 26, 2015).) He added that the regulation is not applicable to members of the Indonesian military, which he argued was an inappropriate exception. (Hasan, supra.)