Non-Muslims and foreigners in the Aceh province of Indonesia wait with fear for the governor to sign off on a law passed by the legislature in September that will apply strict sharia law to them.
The non-Muslim/foreign population in Aceh numbers 90,000.
The new legislation also includes harsher punishments for sharia violations, including extramarital and gay sex. Of late, the province has also since a sharp increase in floggings for other violations, including gambling, drinking alcohol and engaging in any type of relationship called illicit by the law.
Catholic residents of the province have not been notified if they will be able to hold Communion in their churches, since the ceremony involves drinking wine. In addition, non-Sunni Muslims are also concerned that the laws may potentially threaten them as well. The province’s previous governor declared that these non-Sunni sects follow “deviant teachings” which might be deemed illegal under the new laws.
Both Muslim and non-Muslim residents of Aceh are concerned that the increased imposition of strict sharia law on the province will act like a magnet for extremists.
While all provinces in Indonesia are given a large degree of autonomy, Aceh is one of three provinces in the country that have extra-autonomous status. This special status was awarded to Aceh as part of a 2005 peace accord signed to end a violent 30-year struggle for autonomy by the Islamist Free Aceh Movement.
Part of the peace accord allows the establishment of sharia laws to govern the moral behavior of Muslims in the province, including, for example, the prohibition of close contact between men and women who are not related to each other, the prohibition of alcohol, the selling and public consumption of food during the month of Ramadan, the obligation of women to wear a hijab (Islamic head covering) as well as the prohibition of women of wearing tight pants and straddling motorcycles.
Residents in Aceh have been increasingly harassed by the province’s sharia police of late, who specifically target women who they deem dressed in violation of the sharia laws of modest dress.
The latest public whippings (see video below) rattled both Muslim and non-Muslim residents of Banda Aceh, the province’s capital. Six members of one family were publicly caned by a prosecutor for playing poker for cash at a café.
Earlier in the year, a young widow was sentenced to be flogged for having an affair with a married man after sharia vigilantes broke into the woman’s home and allegedly caught the couple about to engage in sex.
The vigilantes proceeded to tie up the man, after which he was beaten. The woman was taken to another room and raped by each man. Afterwards, they doused the couple in sewage before taking them to the authorities for the crime of “tarnishing the village’s reputation.”
The city’s sharia police, the Wilayatul Hisbah, announced that the couple would be caned for committing adultery.