Two teenagers were publicly flogged in Indonesia’s religiously conservative Aceh province after being accused of cuddling in open view, a local official confirmed on Friday.
The caning of the couple, both 18 years old, took place in the provincial capital despite a pledge from authorities last year that corporal punishment of people found violating Aceh’s Islamic code would be done only behind prison walls.
The two stepped onto a raised platform and each received 17 lashes of a rattan cane, as dozens of people watched and took photos outside a mosque in Banda Aceh on Thursday, Iin Muhaira, a spokesman for the mayoralty, told BenarNews. The teenagers were punished outdoors after serving 98-day jail sentences.
The teens were caught being affectionate with each other outside the landmark Baiturrahman mosque in Banda Aceh in November, officials said.
“We want to convey to the public that Sharia law is implemented to anyone without exception,” Banda Aceh Deputy Mayor Zainal Arifin, who witnessed the event, told Agence France-Presse. “Secondly, Sharia law is not intended to injure.”
Apart from the couple, a 35-year-old man was caned 20 times on Thursday after he was caught being “intimate” with a woman a local grocery story that she owned, CNN reported. The woman’s punishment has not yet happened. It was delayed because she was deemed medically unfit to undergo corporal punishment, CNN said.
In 2018, Acehnese officials signed an agreement declaring that canings would be carried out in prisons, despite protests from a legislator and a group of students who said that public canings served as a deterrent. But the agreement did not make clear when the new rule would take effect.
Then-Aceh Gov. Irwandi Yusuf, who is now being detained in Jakarta on corruption charges, said he did not want canings to cause “Islamophobia.”
In May 2017, the first-ever public caning of a couple convicted of gay sex in Aceh drew international media coverage and widespread condemnation.
Islamic Sharia law, as implemented in Aceh, allows up to 100 strokes of the cane for sex outside marriage, including gay sex or sodomy.
Zainal said the latest canings were still carried out in public because there still were no implementing guidelines.
“For now, we’re doing it according to existing regulations,” he said.
Aceh is the only province in Indonesia with authority to implement Sharia, the Islamic law, as mandated by its status as a “special region” with a degree of autonomy, as part of the central government’s attempts to pacify a clamor for independence.
In 2015, Sharia police in Aceh began educating the public about a broadening of the Islamic penal code in the province. Gambling and alcohol consumption are among offenses punishable by caning in the province.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo last year called for an end to canings, which are carried out by hooded figures on a makeshift stage. Rights groups have derided the floggings as cruel.
But a Banda Aceh resident named Hamidah, who also watched the whippings of the young couple on Thursday, described the punishment as "useful."
"Mothers who have girls or younger children are advised that, if you say you go to the school, you go to the school," she said. "Don't do anything that disgraces your parents."