Updated at 6:06 a.m. ET on 2019-08-02
A Buddhist man found guilty of physical intimacy outside marriage was among 11 people caned in public in Indonesia’s devoutly Muslim Aceh province on Thursday, more than a year after the local government vowed to move such punishments indoors.
The spectacle in the courtyard of the Baitusshalihin Mosque in provincial capital Banda Aceh drew hundreds of witnesses, including children. The public lashings occur nearly weekly throughout the province.
Rony Yokil, an ethnic Chinese Buddhist from neighboring North Sumatra province, was caned 27 times after the Aceh Sharia Court found him guilty of being intimate in a hotel room with his 20-year-old Muslim girlfriend, who also received 27 lashes. Their sentences were cut from 30 lashes because the couple, both in their 20s, had spent three months in detention.
Banda Aceh Mayor Aminullah Usman said Rony had chosen sharia punishment as an alternative to jail time or a fine of gold, making him the third Buddhist and eighth non-Muslim to be subjected to the law since it was introduced in 2014.
The others punished were four unmarried couples and a man who was found guilty of having intimate relations with a minor. They received between eight and 33 lashes.
On Wednesday, two unmarried couples were lashed 100 times each in the northern Aceh city of Lhokseumawe after they were found guilty of premarital sex. A third man received 160 lashes for having sex with a minor.
Public canings serve as a deterrent to others, Aminullah said.
“The caning that we are carrying out is not only physical punishment but must serve as a reminder to those who witness so we do not commit acts that violate Islamic law,” he told reporters.
He said the Banda Aceh government had opened an “anti-vice call center” for the public.
“If there are people who know of violations of Islamic law, but have no courage to act, please report. Officers will act on it, so that Banda Aceh is free from immoral acts and sharia violations,” he said.
Sharia law in Aceh regulates khalwat (a man and a woman who are not related or married being alone together), gambling, drinking and selling liquor, sex outside marriage, rape, sexual harassment and homosexual sex.
Under current practice, those who are convicted have to endure public flogging, a spectacle that attracts hundreds of camera-wielding people, including children, despite a rule prohibiting people younger than 18 from watching.
Move to prisons delayed
In April 2018, Irwandi Yusuf, who was then the governor of Aceh, issued a gubernatorial regulation that canings be carried out inside prisons.
Irwandi said at the time that the move would reduce an international uproar over the practice and Islamophobia as an unwanted byproduct. In addition, Gov. Irwandi said he wanted to spare children from seeing the punishment being meted out in public.
While human rights activists supported Irwandi’s plan, conservative Muslim groups voiced their opposition.
Two sharia police officials, who declined to identify themselves, said details about moving canings to prisons had not discussed since Irwandi was arrested on suspicion of corruption in July 2018, after he issued the regulation.
The Jakarta Corruption Court sentenced Irwandi to seven years in prison in April. He is appealing the sentence.
“I have a sense that the acting Aceh governor (Nova Iriansyah) does not support the plan to transfer the canings to the prisons, so the guidelines never saw the light of day,” one official said.
Alidar, who goes by one name and heads the Aceh sharia office, said guidelines for moving the canings were not in place.
“It is still being discussed by concerned agencies, including the prosecutor’s office and the police. But there are indeed obstacles,” he said without elaborating.
An earlier version incorrectly reported that a man was caned for raping a minor.