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Indonesia: Aceh Stoning Provision Deleted, Other Shariah-Influenced Rules Controversial

(Mar. 15, 2013) The Government of Aceh, in Indonesia, has revised a draft set of bylaws, the Qanun Jinayat, to remove a provision that had permitted the stoning of adulterers. These bylaws replace part of the Criminal Code with Islamic [Shariah]provisions applicable to Muslims and were originally endorsed by the Aceh Legislative Council in 2009. (Nurdin Hasan, Aceh Government Removes Stoning Sentence from Draft Bylaw, THE JAKARTA GLOBE (Mar. 12, 2013).) Aceh is a special district with the status of a province within Indonesia and is located in the northern part of the island of Sumatra. (Aceh, BRITANNICA ACADEMIC EDITION (last visited Mar. 12, 2013).)

On March 12, 2013, Syahrizal Abbas, of the Islamic Shariah Agency (a local government body) in Aceh, stated that the government would be discussing both the Qanun Jinayat and the Qanun Acara Jinayat (Criminal Procedure Code) with academics and religious scholars, to improve the two proposed laws. Aceh regulations are known for harsh punishments, including, in addition to death by stoning for adultery, 100 lashes with a cane for homosexuality or premarital sex; 60 lashes, a fine of 60 grams of gold, or 60 months of imprisonment for sexual harassment; and 40 lashes or 40 months of imprisonment for drinking alcohol. Abbas stated that the new bylaws were intended to improve behavior in Aceh and that caning would not be used if the offender could be educated. He added, “[t]hat’s why we expect an improvement of the judges[‘] quality in terms of ability, knowledge and sensitivity … [about the] psychological reasons behind someone who violated the Qanun Jinayat.” (Hasan, supra.)

Irwandi Yusuf, the former governor of Aceh, refused to sign the bylaws due to his opposition to stoning; he was joined in this stance by human rights activists. (Id.) The Qanun Jinayat has been described as a compilation of several existing provisions, adopted since the implementation of Shariah law in Aceh in 2001. These provisions covered propagation of Islam, punishment of unmarried couples who are in close proximity, gambling, and alcoholic drinks. (Id.)

In addition to provincial-level Shariah regulations, some local governments have adopted controversial rules that reflect Shariah views. Early in 2013, the city of Lhokseumawe introduced a bylaw that banned women from riding astride motorcycles as passengers. The mayor of the city, Suaidi Yahya, has stated that the motive behind the bylaw was that behavior and morals were moving away from the values of Aceh. He added that the rule was designed to “save women from things that will cause them to violate Shariah law. … We wish to honor women with this ban, because they are delicate creatures.” (MUI Supports Aceh Bylaw Banning Females from Straddling Motorcycles, THE JAKARTA GLOBE (Jan. 8, 2013).) Government officials in the city asserted that female passengers riding astride would provoke the male drivers and that it was therefore against Islamic law. (Women’s Groups Reject Aceh Motorbike Straddle Ban, THE WEST.COM.AU (Jan. 8, 2013).)

A national religious leader, Ma’ruf Amin, the Chairman of the Indonesian Council of Religious Leaders (Majelis Ulama Indonesia, or MUI), agreed with the bylaw, stating that riding motorcycles was not appropriate for women and that in particular “[s]traddling is impolite for women.” (Id.) The Council is the most prominent Islamic clerical body in Indonesia. (Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs (Georgetown University), Council of Indonesian Ulama, RESOURCES ON FAITH, ETHICS, AND PUBLIC LIFE; Majelis Ulama Indonesia website (both last visited Mar. 14, 2013).)

The central government is reportedly not in agreement with the ban and is considering whether or not to intervene. (Regina Wang, Indonesia City to Prohibit Women Passengers from Straddling Motorcycles, TIME NEWS FEED (Jan. 7, 2013).) Furthermore, women’s rights groups have criticized the rule. Roslina Rasyid, of the Lhokseumawe branch of the Indonesian Women’s Association for Justice, rejected the rule as ignoring safety, claiming that riding astride is a safer way for a passenger to travel on a motorcycle, and Andy Yentriyani, of the National Commission on Violence Against Women, said the bylaw was “part of discriminative policies on women in this country in the name of religion and morality.” (Women’s Groups Reject Aceh Motorbike Straddle Ban, supra.)