Under a scorching sun on Friday, two ethnic Chinese men became the first Buddhists in Indonesia’s Aceh province to be whipped for violating its strict Islamic code.
The two men, identified only by their initials, A.S. and A.A., received nine and seven lashes, respectively, as punishment for gambling through cockfighting.
But their punishment was considerably lighter than canings meted out in Aceh to three other people on Friday, including an 18-year-old woman. The three received between 94 and 112 lashes of the executioner’s rattan cane for sexual misconduct. A sixth person was also caned on gambling charges.
A.S., a 57-year-old Buddhist man, was whipped nine times on a public stage outside the al-Munawarrah mosque in Jantho, a town in Aceh Besar district.
He glanced a few times at his punisher, a man cloaked in a hood. As soon as the flogging ended, A.S. was taken off the stage to a nearby ambulance to receive medical attention. Later, his fellow Buddhist and co-defendant, A.A., received seven lashes.
As non-Muslims, the two ethnic Chinese said they chose to receive their sentences under Sharia law, and not under Indonesia’s criminal code that could have resulted in incarceration. Aceh is the only province in Indonesia that enforces the Islamic code.
The two were caned following their convictions for betting on cockfighting, or gambling, which is an offense under Sharia law. Previously, the law did not stipulate that non-Muslims convicts could be subjected to public caning.
That changed in 2015 when Aceh amended its criminal code to include corporal punishment for non-Muslims under certain circumstances. Any non-Muslims who commit acts considered as crimes under Sharia law in the presence of Muslims could be prosecuted and punished by an Islamic court, particularly if Indonesia’s criminal code did not cover the crime in question, according to the amendments.
A 35-year-old Muslim man identified as M.A. received seven lashes for his conviction on similar gambling charges. He braced himself to be whipped as the executioner aimed the rattan cane to his back.
Sharia Council judges in Jantho had sentenced the three men to 10 lashes, but their sentences were mitigated because they had spent time in police detention since their arrest on Jan. 1. For each month in jail, they received one less lashing.
Following their punishments, the men joked with the paramedics who were treating them.
“We just happened to be watching (the cockfight). Those who were really gambling managed to flee when the police arrived,” A.S. told BenarNews.
“There were only the three of us who didn’t run away and remained there, so the police arrested us.”
A Jantho prosecutor challenged their statement, saying investigators found evidence that the men took part in the betting.
“When they were arrested, the police seized 400,000 rupiah (U.S. $30) of betting money,” prosecutor Rivandi Aziz told journalists.
Asked why non-Muslims were subjected to caning, Aziz said they were given the option to be subjected to Sharia law or the criminal code, and they had opted for Sharia law.
“We live in Aceh, so we have to obey the law that prevails in our region,” A.S. said, adding that he made the decision without bowing to any pressure.
Public caning of non-Muslims is rare in Aceh. Most often, Muslims who violate Sharia law are subject to the punishment. Previously, a Christian woman was lashed 28 times in Takengon, Aceh Tengah, on April 12, 2016, after she was convicted of selling alcoholic beverages.
An executioner canes a woman in Jantho, Aceh Besar, March 10, 2017. [Nurdin Hasan/BenarNews]
Adultery and sexual harassment
Two men and a woman were punished as well before dozens of spectators, including women and children, despite the law forbidding those younger than 18 from witnessing a public caning.
A 41-year-old man identified as D.B.A. received 112 lashes. He was to receive 120 lashes the number was reduced to reflect the eight months he spent in jail.
The executioner took a break after 80 lashes. A team of doctors examined D.B.A.’s condition before the final 32 lashes were administered.
For each 10 lashes, a prosecutor asked D.B.A. if he could endure the punishment. D.B.A. nodded to confirm that he could.
Prosecutor Aziz said police arrested D.B.A. in Sukamakmur sub-district on July 27, 2016, after they received reports about sexual harassment involving three boys, aged 15 and 16.
“The harassment happened at three different times and in different places, so he was tried with three different charges,” he said, adding that the panel of judges called for 40 lashes for each case.
Sharia stipulates that a sexual offender could face up to 40 lashes while sexual harassment to children is punishable by a maximum of 90 lashes.
Also punished before the spectators were a man and woman charged with fornication. They were sentenced to 100 lashes each.
The 25-year-old man identified as R.A. was lashed 94 times while his partner, an 18-year-old woman identified as C.N. was lashed 99 times.