Updated at 10:40 a.m. ET on 2015-04-30
Sharia police in Indonesia’s westernmost province, Aceh, have begun educating the public about a broadening of the Islamic penal code set to go into effect in October this year.
Behaviors punishable under the new regulations – known as Qanun Jinayat – include adultery, rape, sexual harassment, homosexual acts, and falsely accusing others of adultery.
“We printed 8,000 brochures containing a summary of penalties in the Qanun Jinayat so it’s easy for the public to understand. In early May, we’re going to distribute them so people won’t be surprised when it’s implemented,” Samsuddin, head of enforcement for Aceh’s sharia police, or Wilayatul Hisbah (WH), told BenarNews in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh.
Already, the WH oversee four bylaws on gambling, alcohol use, khalwat – unmarried men and women being alone together – and syiar Islam, a broad category related to promoting an Islamic environment.
The new regulations contain several new provisions and set stiffer punishments – 10 to 200 lashes in public, as opposed to three to 40 currently – along with fines payable in pure gold.
The bylaws were approved by the local legislature, the DPRA, in September 2014, in order to complete the implementation of sharia law in Aceh, proponents say.
Al Yasa’ Abubakar, an expert on Islamic law who participated in the DPRA deliberations, said implementation was set for one year in order to provide enough time to inform the public and prepare enforcement officials.
“When it is implemented, the hope is that Acehnese people will no longer violate sharia Islam,” said Al Yasa, a professor at Ar-Raniry State Islamic University in Banda Aceh.
Aceh has long been a “special region” of Indonesia with a degree of autonomy. It has had Islamic bylaws since 2001, although enforcement has been uneven.
Aceh’s sharia law was also guaranteed in the August 2005 peace deal that ended a three-decade conflict between the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and the Indonesian government.
Violations of sharia law are prosecuted in a special sharia court. All other criminal violations are prosecuted in state courts, under the criminal code in effect throughout Indonesia.
Aceh’s Qanun Jinayat will also apply to non-Muslims who are apprehended together with Muslims violating sharia law. If the violation is not regulated by Indonesia’s broader criminal code, non-Muslims will be prosecuted in sharia court under Qanun Jinayat.
WH personnel have begun telling people about the new laws during stepped-up enforcement of clothing seen as violating the “Islamic environment” clause of the existing sharia criminal code.
At a main road in Banda Aceh recently, WH officers, including women, flagged down motorcycle riders wearing shorts or tight pants and gave them a lecture.
“Why do they do these clothing raids only on the roads? A lot of people wear tight clothes at the beach. Inside vehicles, also, lots of girls wear tight clothing and no headscarf, but they aren’t stopped,” Rahmah, a 19-year-old student who said she had been stopped repeatedly by the WH for wearing jeans, protested.
According to Samsuddin, in the last two months, WH personnel have carried out eight raids in Banda Aceh. Sharia police throughout Aceh’s 23 regencies have also conducted raids.
They cannot stop women in cars, he said, because cars are not a public area, but WH personnel routinely patrol leisure spots, especially beaches.
Zulfikar Muhammad, executive director of the Aceh Human Rights NGO Coalition, said sharia police had not yet found the best approach to enforcement.
He advised them to focus on Islamic education instead.
“If the approach is through continuous education, I’m certain at some point that people’s behavior will change on its own, and the WH will not need to harass them on the roads as they do now,” he said.
Dress code regulations tend to discriminate against women, according to Azriana, chair of the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan).
Some 364 local laws across Indonesia aim to regulate the morals or dress of women, she said.
“These regulations are in force in Muslim-majority regions, even those that do not apply Islamic law,” said Azriana, a native of Aceh.
Because of its Islamic law, Aceh should set an example of good governance for other Indonesian provinces, and eradicate corruption among government officials, she added.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Al Yasa’ Abubakar as a legislator.