Aceh’s expanded Sharia criminal penal code goes into effect on Friday, with punishments of 100 lashes in public for homosexual acts and 200 for the rape of a child, among other measures.
The regional House of Representatives approved the bylaws – known as Qanun Jinayat – in September 2014, despite activists objecting to them as discriminatory and difficult to implement fairly.
Hendra Saputra, of the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) of Aceh, voiced concern about the Qanun Jinayat being selectively enforced.
Under existing Sharia laws, enforcement “has been sharp toward the bottom, and blunt toward the top,” he told BenarNews.
“Many cases involving officials do not result in canings, but ordinary people are often caned,” he said, adding that KontraS rejected caning as a punishment.
Moreover, “Qanun Jinayat does not apply to members of the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) in Aceh. They should comply with Qanun Jinayat, to support the implantation of Sharia law, and Aceh’s singular character.”
‘Very high impact on women’
The criminal code discriminates against women, according to Azriana, head of the National Commission on Women (Komnas Perempuan) and a native of Aceh.
“What really concerns us is there will be impunity for rapists, because an oath is taken as evidence,” she said. “If the perpetrator swears that he did not rape, then rape is considered not to have happened.”
Aceh is the only province in Indonesia where Sharia law has been partially implemented since 2001, and it also enjoys a degree of autonomy. Sharia law there was guaranteed in a peace deal signed in Helsinki 10 years ago, which ended a decades-old separatist conflict between the Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels.
Under the Islamic criminal code, people who gamble, drink alcohol, or engage in lewd behavior can be caned in public after being convicted in a Sharia court – and many have been.
During 14 years of partial Sharia law to date, women have suffered disproportionately from enforcement of clothing regulations and rules against behaviors such as being alone with a person of the opposite sex, Azriana said.
“Every rule that regulates morality has a very high impact on women. This is a form of discrimination because a woman who violates such rules carries a negative stigma about it for the rest of her life,” the activist told BenarNews.
Ismail Hasani, from the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, blasted the criminal code as "cruel, inhumane and against the constitution,” according to Agence France-Presse.
"The government should not meddle in private affairs and instead guarantee individual rights such as freedom," AFP quoted him as saying.
‘Safeguarding’ human dignity
Azriana and Hendra said their respective institutions would closely monitor the implementation of Qanun Jinayat in Aceh, and regularly issue their findings if they saw problems.
“Hopefully after the qanun are implemented, there will be no more violations of Sharia Islam. But if there are still many cases, like now, it means the implementation of the Sharia criminal code has failed in Aceh,” Hendra said.
Meanwhile, the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR) is preparing to challenge the Qanun Jinayat in Indonesia’s Supreme Court on grounds that some of its clauses violate national law to the detriment of homosexuals, women and children.
Syahrizal Abbas , head of the Sharia Law Office of Aceh, said he welcomed monitoring of the implementation of the Qanun Jinayat.
“Critics of the substance and implementation must be accepted to ensure we are following the rules. If the implementation is imperfect, it has to be quickly corrected,” he said.
Over the past year, his office worked hard to educate people all over Aceh about the new bylaws. The hope is that once they are in force, there will be no more violations of Sharia law because the penalties are very severe, he said.
“The essence of this legal code is to safeguard human dignity. This is also to protect the people of Aceh so that they do not sin before Allah,” he told BenarNews.
In Syahrizal’s view, the Qanun Jinayat completes the province’s Sharia legal code by adding seven “criminal” acts: fornication, accusing someone of adultery, sexual harassment, rape, lewdness and lesbian or gay sexual acts.
Rape penalties most severe
Under the Qanun Jinayat, which BenarNews has seen, the harshest penalty, that for the rape of a child, is 150 to 200 lashes. The rape of an adult woman carries a penalty of 125 to 175 lashes.
Violators can pay a fine in pure gold or serve jail time in lieu of being caned.
“The judge is the one who makes the decision about these alternative punishments. So the judge is given space to decide whether the Sharia law violator will be caned, put in jail or required to pay a fine,” said Syahrizal, who is also a professor of Islamic law at Ar-Raniry State Islamic University in Banda Aceh.
“But, for fornication, 100 lashes and accusing someone of adultery, 80 lashes – there is no alternative, because those punishments are listed in the Quran.”
A person convicted of engaging in lesbian or gay sex can be punished with 100 lashes, while a person found guilty of sexual harassment can receive 45 lashes. Drinking alcohol carries 40 lashes; gambling a maximum of 12; and kissing by a man and woman not yet married, 30.