An Indonesian Muslim cleric who is a member of a council of theologians which helped frame Islamic laws, including flogging for some offenses, was publicly caned Thursday in Aceh province for an extramarital affair with a married woman.
Mukhlis bin Muhammad, a member of the Aceh Ulema Consultative Council in Aceh Besar regency, became the first religious figure to be sentenced under the sharia law in the deeply conservative region.
He received 28 lashes from a hooded man in a caning ceremony attended by about 100 spectators at a public park in the provincial capital Banda Aceh.
The woman with whom the 46-year-old Mukhlis had an affair was caned 25 times.
Mukhlis and the 33-year-old woman, both of whom are married, were found guilty by Aceh’s sharia court of ikhtilat, or being alone together while unmarried, after they were caught being together in a car at a beach near Banda Aceh last month.
Two lashes were deducted from the sentences because they had spent more than a month in detention.
The couple covered their faces with their hands as they were led to a raised platform to be caned by two officers.
Sharia law in Aceh regulates mixing of the sexes, gambling, drinking and selling liquor, sex outside marriage, rape, sexual harassment and homosexual sex.
“To those who are flogged today, let’s reflect and ask for God’s forgiveness. Let us protect ourselves and not be alone together without being accompanied by a family member,” Banda Aceh Mayor Aminullah Usman said a speech read out by an official.
At the same ceremony, an 18-year-old woman was flogged for a lewd act with a boy, who was spared because he was a minor.
Aceh Besar deputy regent Husaini Abdul Wahab said the punishment meted out to the cleric showed that the application of sharia law was not discriminatory.
“The law applies to all, even if they are MPU members,” he told reporters.
Husaini, who is an Islamic cleric, said Mukhlis would be dismissed from the organization because he had tarnished its reputation.
Canings in Aceh are carried out publicly, a spectacle that attracts hundreds of camera-wielding people, including children, despite a rule prohibiting people younger than 18 from watching.
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, 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.
Officials said details about moving canings to prisons had not been 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. A higher court increased his sentence to eight years in August.