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Gays Caned Under Sharia Law in Aceh

Michael Johnson
An Indonesian man waits in a cell Wednesday before a trial in a Sharia court in Banda Aceh. (Photo: AFP)

Two gay men in Indonesia’s Aceh province received 83 lashes earlier this week after being convicted of “homosexual acts.” While human rights groups denounced the beatings, the punishment for perceived Islamic violations will likely become more common under recently enhanced Sharia law in the province.

According to media reports, the men’s neighbors had entered into a rented apartment, filming the couple naked last March. The vigilantes detained the men, 20 and 23, spreading the video widely on social media.

On Tuesday, hundreds of people gathered at a mosque in central Banda Aceh for the public flogging; some onlookers shouted “do it harder,” another said and “let this be a lesson to you.” Four heterosexual couples were also caned at the event for having sexual relations outside of marriage.

Under a 2006 agreement to end long-running insurgency with Islamist separatists, the central government in Jakarta enabled Aceh to enact Sharia laws in 2014. Such reforms “allow members of the public as well as the special sharia police to publicly identify and detain anyone suspected of violating its rules” on immorality including “adultery, gambling, drinking alcohol, women who wear tight clothes and men who skip Friday prayers,” according to the Independent. Even though caning is widely considered torture in international law, the punishment was imposed on some 339 people in Indonesia last year for violations of Islamic rule.  

Amnesty International condemned the men’s convictions for homosexuality, and also condemned the manner of punishment, “which constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and may amount to torture.”

While Indonesia has been long considered a model for Muslim-majority moderate governance, Aceh’s Sharia law has emboldened hardliners elsewhere in the country, including the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI). The FPI led a campaign against the Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who was sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy.