Gay sex in the Indonesian province of Aceh will become a crime punishable by public lashing, if a new bill passes the regional parliament.
Aceh is the only province in Indonesia that practices sharia law and has enforced Islamic punishment over a decade for a number of offences, including the consumption of alcohol, gambling and inappropriate relations with the opposite sex.
The new bill is aimed at expanding the areas in which sharia law can be applied, such as for gay relations and adultery. Local officials said that the new legislation was meant to clarify how existing laws should be enacted.
The news site Tempo reported this week that an initial hearing on the new legislation was due to be held on Wednesday; but a final vote was expected on Friday, according to Moharriadi, a local government official.
“Lashing and fine (in gold) are among the punishments. The number of lashes depends on each offence,” the Tempo report said.
“The lightest punishment will be 10 lashes or 100 grammes of gold or a 10-month imprisonment and the heaviest would be 150 times lashes, 1,500 grammes of gold or 150-month imprisonment.” It was not clear how many lashes would be given as punishment to a man or woman found guilty of having gay sex.
Murthalamuddin, the head of public relations at the Aceh state government said: “No expansion [in sharia law] is going to happen. The new regulation is meant to bring clarification on how to implement sharia law and the procedures needed to implement it in Aceh.”
Munawar, from Banda Aceh’s sharia law agency said: “Sharia law is not there to give trouble to human beings. It is there to protect human rights.”
Last week, eight Achenese who were convicted of gambling were put on a public stage and each striken with a rattan cane five times. Public cannings in Aceh are mostly symbolic and carried out in order to humiliate the offender rather than inflicting physical pain but rights activists have long denounced the practice as degrading and unjust.
Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population in the world, follows a moderate form of Islam. But as much as Indonesia is embracing pluralism in Aceh, conservative leaders are consolidating their power, hindering social reforms or gender equality.
Sharia law was given to Aceh as part of its bid for autonomy in 2001. The central government in Jakarta says sharia law was something the Achenese wanted in the first place for their desired package of autonomy but many in Banda Aceh, the province’s capital, dispute that claim.
Shadia Marhaban, a prominent women rights’ activist, said: “Sharia law was enacted in the height of martial law in 2001. Why did [the former president] Abdurrahman Wahid give sharia law to Aceh? It was partly to isolate Aceh from the western audience. After 9/11 it put us in a very difficult situation.
“Most people were worrying about their life, now they had to worry about what to wear. Central governmet realised autonomy and sharia law will stop support for Aceh and stop its bid for independence.”
Indonesia’s president-elect, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, is expected to be sworn in to office by late October.