Indonesia Powerless To Stop Floggings In Sharia Province

From Indonesia:
A total of 13 Indonesians were caned (a punishment under the Islamic Sharia law) at a local mosque in Banda Aceh in Indonesia's province of Aceh on Monday (17/10). These people (seven men and six women) allegedly exhibited behavior that is not allowed by Aceh's local Sharia law. Such behavior includes "too close contact" between unmarried people (such as touching and kissing). Over the past two days pictures of the caning spread in international media, accompanied by concerns about this brutal punishment and the state of human rights in Indonesia.

Reportedly, the corporal punishment of caning is growing in frequency in Aceh. This is a development that cannot be blocked by the central government because Aceh was granted special autonomy in the early 2000s (this move waned Aceh's desire to become an independent state). This also implies that Aceh was able to adopt (a form of) Islamic Sharia law. Various activities that are generally considered normal - or at least acceptable - in Western countries (as well as in other parts of Indonesia) are banned in Aceh (including gambling, drinking alcohol and consensual premarital sex).

Aceh is the only province in Indonesia that has implemented the Islamic Sharia law. Chances of other provinces adopting Sharia law are actually very small. Aceh is a unique case (and therefore the central government gave the special status to this area) because it has been a Muslim stronghold basically since the arrival of Islam in Indonesia around ten decades ago.

Caning is one of the most popular punishments for offenses related to Islamic norms and ethics with regard to interaction between the sexes (or same sex issues such as gay sex). The more serious the offense, the more beatings are given. Besides the physical pain, the goal of caning is to humiliate the offender in public (this can bring shame to the whole family). Caning is conducted in front of a crowd (and usually media are present as well) that gather to witness the "execution".

In Monday's caning, a woman was reportedly found guilty of "standing too close to her boyfriend". Twelve others were also found guilty of breaking Islamic laws on intimacy. Meanwhile, a pregnant woman was given a reprieve, although she will have to face caning after giving birth.

Indonesia contains the world's largest Muslim population. However, the majority of the nation's Muslim population is not a supporter of Sharia law (instead they practise a moderate form of Islam). This is also visible in the results of general legislative elections. Those political parties that emphasize the need for a stronger role of Islam in Indonesian society (which can include the implementation of Sharia law) lag far behind the "secular" parties that support a pluralist society.

However, the UN Human Rights Committee as well as other human rights bodies are raising concerns about discrimination and laws or other recent government actions. For example, in February 2016 the Indonesian government ordered all instant messaging providers - including Line, Twitter and WhatsApp - to remove gay emoticons (such as same-sex couples holding hands or making kiss gestures at each other) as these emoticons undermine the local culture and (religious-inspired) ethics.

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