Plans by the government of Indonesia’s Aceh province to administer canings for violators of Islamic law in prisons, instead of in public, have faced bureaucratic and technical roadblocks, and have yet to be implemented a year after the change was announced.
Last year, Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf issued a gubernatorial regulation on procedures for the implementation of sharia law, including a clause requiring canings to be carried out in prisons.
Two months later, in April, the governor signed an agreement with the local office of the Ministry of Law and Human Rights on the use of prisons for caning venues.
"Technical instructions on canings in prisons are still being discussed by various parties involved," the head of the Aceh Islamic Sharia Office, Alidar, told BenarNews on Thursday.
Under current practice, convicted sharia offenders have to endure public flogging, a spectacle that attracts hundreds of camera-wielding people, including children, despite a rule prohibiting people under 18 to watch.
Irwandi said at the time that moving canings indoors would reduce international uproar over the practice and Islamophobia as an unwanted byproduct of the implementation of Islamic law in Aceh.
In addition, he said he wanted to avoid children seeing the corporal punishment being meted out.
'Where does the money come from?'
Canings are held almost every Friday across Aceh. But only seven of its 23 prisons have yards that are suitable as locations for canings, according to Agus Toyib, the head of the provincial law and human rights office. A convict was whipped at one of them, in Meulaboh, West Aceh, in May 2018, he said.
Officials from institutions involved in the Sharia law enforcement – the Wilayatul Hisbah (WH, the Sharia police), prosecutors, police, courts, and the ministry of law and human rights – have met several times to draft the technical instructions and iron out problems, Alidar said.
"For example, there are convicts in Simeulue Regency, but because the prison there cannot be used as a caning venue, they must be taken to Meulaboh, which of course requires money," Alidar said.
"Where does the money come from? Also the judge must accompany him. If the judge joins, what happens if there is a hearing in Simeulue?” he said.
“Likewise, the prosecutor and executioner from the WH must participate. Can they be represented by those in West Aceh? Technical things like that need to be regulated," he added.
Arrangements in the prison during a caning session also needed to be regulated, said Marzuki, the head of investigations for the Sharia police.
"Who will be there? Who can enter to watch? Can other prisoners watch?" he said.
Zulfikar Muhammad, executive director of the Aceh Human Rights NGO Coalition, said he was not surprised that it had taken so long to draft the technical instructions, because several other regulations had met a similar fate.
"Maybe if Mr. Irwandi were here, it would not have dragged on, because he issued the rules," he said.
Irwandi was arrested by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) in July last year for allegedly accepting bribes in a case linked to a development project using Aceh province’s special autonomy fund.
He is currently on trial in Jakarta.
Islamic Sharia 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.
The plan to move canings into prisons has sparked controversy. While human rights activists support the move, conservative Muslim groups have voiced their opposition.
Hendra Saputra of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) in Aceh said his group was opposed to caning as a form of punishment but if it had to be done, it should not be done in public.
Caning “degrades human dignity,” especially with people watching and mocking the offenders, he said.
However, Teungku Faisal Ali, chairman of the Aceh branch of the Islamic organization Nahdlatul Ulama, said caning should be carried out in public so that convicts can learn a lesson from the experience. The local government should focus on other matters, he suggested.
"There are still many problems that require serious attention from the Aceh government such as education and improving the economy," he said.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, Aceh is ranked as the poorest province in Sumatra, with nearly 16 percent of its 5.2 million people living in poverty.
The chairman of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) in Aceh, Muslim At-Thahiri, also opposed indoor caning and suggested that Irwandi’s legal trouble was a form of divine punishment.
"Because he made the regulation, he was arrested by the KPK," he said.
"If later Irwandi is convicted and jailed, we will urge the new Aceh governor to revoke the regulation."
Muslim added that his party and Islamic organizations continued to push Aceh’s local legislature to introduce clauses on corruption and theft in the sharia law.
"Actually, in Aceh there must be a qanun (law) that regulates corruption because this corruption is immoral and is detrimental to society."
Alidar stated that Islamic law in Aceh was being introduced in stages and it was possible that one day harsher punishment including chopping the hands of thieves could be applied when the people were ready.