Seeking to dampen international criticism and protect children, officials in Indonesia’s Aceh province have decided to move public canings indoors and regulate who can attend.
Henceforth, canings of people convicted of violating Islamic law will take place inside prisons and not in mosque courtyards, where they have been attended by thousands of people, many of whom filmed the spectacle.
Local officials signed off on the change in the provincial capital on Thursday despite protests by a legislator and a group of students who said public canings serve as a deterrent.
“We don’t want implementation of this punishment to get in the way of our foreign relations, because of Islamophobia,” Aceh Gov. Irwandi Yusuf told journalists, explaining why he issued the regulation. He said a limited number of spectators could still watch indoor canings.
“Children are not allowed inside. Visitors can’t bring camera, or cell phones,” he said.
“Can you image if children watch it and see the public cheering, clapping. It is not what Sharia law intends.”
National and international human right activists have been critical of the Aceh canings, calling them human rights violations.
The first-ever public caning of a couple convicted of gay sex in Aceh in May 2017 in particular drew international media coverage and widespread condemnation. Islamic Sharia law is in force in Indonesia’s westernmost province, and allows up to 100 strokes for gay sex or sodomy.
Irwandi said a video of those canings went viral on YouTube, causing potential long-term trauma for the men.
“They could go on to become public figures or even clerics and then someone would show them the video and remind them of how they used to be,” he said.
Munawar A. Djalil, head of Aceh’s Sharia law agency, said the regulation was signed to prevent children from watching.
“But in reality from 2005 until now, they watched the canings. We can imagine the psychological effect of such violence on children,” Munawar said.
Seven students protested outside the building Thursday while officials signed an agreement on the venue of the canings.
Muharruddin, the chairman of Aceh’s House of Representatives, called the governor’s act undemocratic, saying changes to Sharia bylaws must be approved by the provincial assembly, not enacted by executive decree.
“In hierarchy, the qanun is positioned higher than a gubernatorial regulation. …The technical procedure for whipping is already in the qanun,” he told BenarNews, referring to the Islamic bylaws.
Members of the Indonesian Muslim Students Action Front said moving canings behind closed doors could lead to more frequent violations of the law.
“If it is conducted inside prison, it is the same as being closed [to the public]. Violations to Sharia law will be more rampant. It is already rampant,” said protest coordinator Tuwanku Muhammad.
“We are against the regulation because caning in public places serves as a lesson for the public not to violate the Sharia law.”
Tuwanku said the turnout for the protest was small because he and the others only learned about the signing the night before.
“We will stage a rally with more participants from other Islamic mass organizations,” he said.
Irwandi shrugged off the objections.
“If they disagree, that’s all right. It is their right.”