More than 300 people were lashed by authorities enforcing Sharia law in Indonesia’s Aceh province in 2016, and local experts warn the practice will rise in 2017.

Last year was the first full 12 months of implementation of the Sharia Criminal Code in the province, home to 5 million people, after it went into effect in September 2015.

Human Rights Watch has been monitoring what it sees as human rights abuses linked to enforcement of Sharia bylaws prohibiting adultery and imposing public dress requirements on Muslims.

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“The khalwat (“close proximity”) law makes association by unmarried individuals of the opposite sex a criminal offense in some circumstances,” says Human Rights Watch's Asia division deputy director Phelim Kine. “While the dress requirement is gender-neutral on its face, in practice it imposes far more onerous restrictions on women with the mandatory hijab, or veil, and long skirts. These ‘offenses’ are not banned elsewhere in Indonesia.”

Of the 339 people to receive multiple lashes of a cane as punishment under the law in Aceh last year, 37 were women, HRW says. According to local reports, at least 25 people had been canned in Aceh this year.

The laws are particularly harsh for the LGBT community; penalties include up to 100 lashes and up to 100 months in prison for consensual same-sex sexual act. Sexual relations outside of marriage, or zina, can likewise carry a punishment of 100 lashes.


REUTERS/Tarmizy Harva

Kine says that under Indonesian law, the national home affairs minister can review and repeal local bylaws, including those adopted in Aceh. However, he notes that last June, Minister of Home Affairs Tjahjo Kumolo backtracked on an announced commitment to abolish abusive Sharia regulations in the country.

“It’s up to President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo to prod Kumolo to deliver on his promise, or to personally take action against Aceh’s Sharia bylaws and any other local regulations that are discriminatory or otherwise unlawful,” Kine says.

Jakarta Globe reports that in 2014 a special government team found aspects of Aceh's sharia criminal code contradicted not only Indonesia’s Criminal Code but also laws regulating the Military Court, National Police, Attorney General's Office, Indonesian Military and the Aceh Special Administration.

Talking to The News Lens in Jakarta last year, one local human rights activist described the slow change happening in Indonesia as a subtle shift from a society that upholds “religious freedom” to one that has “religious harmony.”

He pointed to the ever-expanding influence of Islamic groups in politics via groups like Nahdatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, which respectively boast tens of millions of members.

Sharia law is applied in varying extents across much of the Middle East and northern and eastern Africa.

Editor: Olivia Yang