Two women each received 95 lashes in Indonesia’s Aceh province after being found guilty under sharia law of soliciting clients for sex workers over the internet, officials said Tuesday.
Wearing white robes and headscarves but no face masks, the women identified as YU, 47, and HE, 35, were caned in front of dozens of spectators outside the Sharia office in the town of Langsa on Monday, according to Aji Asmanuddin, head of Langsa’s Islamic sharia agency.
“This was the first case of [online prostitution] that we handled, and we hope it will be the last in Langsa City and in Aceh as a whole,” Aji told BenarNews.
The women were arrested on May 9 after officers received a tip from residents about online prostitution, and found guilty of promoting sex outside of marriage by the town’s sharia court on June 4, according to Aji. The offense carries a maximum sentence of 100 lashes or 100 months in prison.
Police briefly detained five suspected sex workers but they were released because they were not caught in the act, officials said.
Aji said a crackdown on vice in Langsa forced sex workers and their pimps to move the business online, “causing public unease.”
“We continue to work with police so we can uncover cases of prostitution of this kind because they are undermining and damaging the faith and character of our society,” he said, adding that he hoped the women’s punishment would serve as a lesson for the community.
Aceh is the only province in Indonesia which practices sharia law, regulating mixing of the sexes, gambling, drinking and selling liquor, sex outside marriage, rape, sexual harassment and homosexual sex. Aji said this was the city’s third public flogging this year.
Human trafficking charges
The women remain in detention where they face separate criminal charges under Indonesia’s secular justice system, police said.
The head of the Langsa police criminal investigation unit, Arief S. Wibowo, said they would be indicted with human trafficking and a violation of the country’s Electronic Transaction and Information Act. If convicted, they could face a maximum of six years in prison and a fine of 1 billion rupiah (U.S. $68,700).
“The criminal investigation is ongoing and we have submitted the case file to the prosecutor’s office,” Arief told BenarNews.
Arief said the other women who were briefly detained were required to report regularly to police.
“We will keep an eye on them and hopefully we can also uncover similar cases, which according to information from the public, have become more frequent lately,” Arief said.
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 serving as governor of Aceh at the time, issued a gubernatorial regulation that canings be carried out inside prisons.
Irwandi said 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 the plan, conservative Muslim groups voiced their opposition and officials said local authorities were not ready to move canings to prisons, citing a lack of facilities.