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Indonesia: Local Ordinance to Require Wearing of Headscarves

(June 7, 2012) The city of Tasikmalaya, in Indonesia's West Java Province, is in the process of adopting an ordinance that would require Muslim women to wear headscarves. The rule would not apply to the approximately 1% of the population that is not Muslim, but would be enforced for Muslim visitors. The ordinance would enact the Bylaw on Community Values Based on Muslim Teachings, passed in the city in 2009. Tasikmalaya City Secretary Tio Indra Setiadi, speaking on June 4, 2012, said that preparations would be completed soon, perhaps this month. (Yuli Tri Suwarni, Tasikmalaya to Make Muslim Women Wear Headscarves, THE JAKARTA POST (June 5, 2012).)

Although Indonesia does not as a nation follow sharia [Islamic] law, Aceh Province has 54 regulations based on sharia law, and there are 79 other such regulations in various local administrations throughout the country. (Id.) Unlike the situation in Aceh, Tasikmalaya anticipates enforcing the new regulation through regular, not religious courts. Setiadi did state that a special police team would be established to enforce the law, as the national police would not handle sharia law infractions. He added the assurance that “[t]here will be no caning punishment as in Aceh. This bylaw is intended mainly to educate people to live in accordance with Islamic teachings.” (Id.) In contrast, a spokesman for the Tasikmalaya Legislative Council said that he thought that the national police could enforce the new Bylaw locally and that therefore no special sharia police force would be needed. (Id.)

In addition to the requirement that women cover their heads, the 2009 Bylaw's provisions include stipulations on “corruption, prostitution, adultery, homosexuality, drug use and trafficking, consuming alcoholic beverages, looking at pornography, thuggery, promoting cults and abortion.” (Id.)

The Bylaw's head-covering provision has been criticized by women's rights activist Hemasari, who said that the rule “is not based on practical social values.” (Yuli Tri Suwarni, Activists and Lawmaker Slam Headscarf Bylaw, THE JAKARTA POST (June 6, 2012).) She noted that Tasikmalaya is attempting to gain the status of “religious city,” but argued that regulations on business and education should have been given priority, rather than rules on head covering, and pointed out that a previous ban on alcoholic drinks had not been effective in reducing deaths from their consumption. (Id.)

The new rule was also criticized by a legislator from the Indonesian Democratic Paraty of Struggle, who called the draft regulation unconstitutional and said it was “discrimination against women,” adding that “[l]ocal council members should oppose this kind of regulation. I also urge President Susilo Bamban Yudhoyono and Home Minister Gamawan Fauzi to curb local politicians who are challenging our Constitution.” (Id.)

Other aspects of the Bylaw, notably provisions on abortion and homosexuality, came under criticism from Syaful Harahap, a representative of a non-governmental organization. He raised a question about why abortion was considered in the Bylaw to be a violent act, noting a fatwa that permitted the procedure for fetuses less than 40 days old, in emergency situations. Harahap also questioned the practicality of the provisions on homosexuality, stating that those monitoring compliance with the Bylaw might not be able to determine whether or not a person was homosexual in orientation. Furthermore, he said, “[t]he matter might become complicated if a gay person arrested turns out to be transgendered.” (Id.)