More than 530 people have been publicly flogged in Indonesia’s Aceh province since a new Islamic criminal code was enacted in October 2015, new figures show. People caned include hundreds of men and women punished for “victimless crimes” such as gambling, non-marital kissing, and extramarital sex.
Under national legislation stemming from a “Special Status” agreement brokered in 1999, Aceh is the only one of Indonesia’s 34 provinces that can legally adopt bylaws derived from Sharia, or Islamic law. These bylaws apply not only to Aceh’s predominantly Muslim population, but to about 90,000 non-Muslims residents, mostly Christians and Buddhists, as well as domestic and foreign visitors to the province. In September 2014, the Aceh provincial parliament approved the Principles of the Islamic Bylaw and the Islamic criminal code, which created new discriminatory offenses that do not exist in the Indonesian national criminal code.
The bylaws extend Sharia to non-Muslims and criminalize consensual same-sex sexual acts as well as all zina (sexual relations outside of marriage). The criminal code permits as punishment up to 100 lashes and up to 100 months in prison for consensual same-sex sexual acts, while zina violations carry a penalty of 100 lashes. The Principles of the Islamic Bylaw violate the right to freedom of religion enshrined in the Indonesian constitution and international law by effectively requiring all Muslims to practice the Sunni tradition of Islam. Aceh’s Sharia bylaws also violate commitments to “universal principles of human rights” embodied in the Helsinki agreement, which officially ended a decades-long pro-independence insurgency in Aceh in August 2015. President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo has yet to challenge these regulations.
The Indonesian government reaped international opprobrium for the May 23 public flogging in Aceh of two gay men convicted of same-sex relations. The Aceh provincial government responded by proposing to hide floggings from public view. Jokowi should uphold Indonesia’s international legal obligations and abolish discriminatory Sharia regulations and their barbaric punishments.