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Sharia in Aceh discriminates

JAKARTA (UCAN): Aceh in Indonesia is one of only two places in Asia where Sharia-based bylaws are enforced, but complaints say that they are discriminating, with punishments only being handed out to the poor and weak, while officials or wealthy business people are never being seen to be punished.

The Islamic criminal code took effect on October 23 last year in the predominantly Muslim province. It stipulates a range of punishments, including caning for a range of offences from same-sex relations, drinking alcohol, gambling, adultery, sexual harassment and rape.

Farida, a Muslim woman who didn’t want to give her full name, says the presence of the bylaw is fine. “The problem is that its implementation seems to be unjust,” she said.

“It tends to be very harsh on the weak. The bylaw is strictly applied to low-status people and, if they violate it, they’re punished publicly,” she explained.

Sharia police conduct street raids almost every day. “They look for girls and women not wearing headscarves and unmarried couples sitting in the street. We feel intimidated,” she went on.

Father Hermanus Sahar, a parish priest in Banda Aceh since 2012, says that the implementation of the by-laws has not been effective. “Alcohol is still sold here and some unmarried couples still go around,” he said.

The bylaw can be applied to non-Muslims if they are willing to be sentenced under it. But Father Sahar said that his parishioners have not been affected.

There was one case of a Christian being punished. On April 12, a 60-year-old Protestant, Remita Sinaga, was publicly whipped 28 times for selling alcohol.

Roslina Rasyid, the director of the Legal Aid Society for Women based in Lhokseumawe, said that her group has not yet been asked to intervene in a Sharia case.

“Sometimes a violator needs a counsellor. But what I see as a problem is that if a case is made public, it means disgrace to the family,” she said.

She explained that violators might have to leave their villages. “The local government fails to see this fact.”

Nia Sjarifudin, the coordinator of the Jakarta-based National Alliance of Unity in Diversity, suggested that the local government should conduct a review of the bylaw’s implementation.

Her group and several other organisations issued a statement saying the implementation over the last year is full of violations.

“There have been cases of wrongful arrest and violent acts by Sharia police. The implementation is discriminative because it is not applied to people with authority,” the statement says.

There were 221 sentences for violations from January to September and at least 180 were caned.

On October 17, a woman was caned after being accused of standing too close to her boyfriend. She was among 13 men and women flogged at a mosque in Banda Aceh, The Independent reported.

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