JAKARTA – Five unmarried couples were on Wednesday flogged publicly in Indonesia’s conservative Aceh province, the only part of the world’s largest Muslim-majority country that practices sharia or strict Islamic law.
The whipping was carried out at a platform outside a mosque in the Tengku Abdurrahman street in provincial capital Banda Aceh.
The accused were whipped between 10 to 20 times with a wooden cane. Eight of them had four lashes suspended in exchange of the time they spent in custody.
Four of the couples were accused of “ikhtilat,” or maintaining an affective relationship without marriage. The fifth couple was given punishment for “khalwat” which means meeting alone in a private space without being married.
Islamic law forbids private meeting of stranger men and women or maintaining intimate relationship without getting married.
The crime of “ikhtilat” carries a maximum punishment of 30 lashes. “Khalwat” can invite a maximum of 10 lashes, according to the latest draft of the Aceh law approved in 2015.
The public flogging on Wednesday was attended by Banda Aceh mayor Aminullah Usman. A crowd of men, women and children witnessed the punishment being meted out to the accused. Some in the crowd captured it on their mobile phones.
Other crimes which come under the ambit of sharia law include gambling, drinking or trading in alcohol and adultery or sodomy, which carry a maximum punishment of 200 lashes with a cane made of rattan, a climbing palm species used as wicker.
Aceh first introduced sharia law in 2000 under a concession made by the central government to persuade it to abandon its aspirations for independence and to end clashes with the armed separatist group Free Aceh Movement.
In the beginning of 2018, the provincial government announced that punishments would be held inside prisons and not of in front of mosques following global criticism against the practice.
But the change has been implemented in only a few counties while flogging continues to be carried out in public squares in others.
On the International Women’s Day on March 8, more than a hundred women marched in Banda Aceh seeking protection of their rights and more representation.
The protest came at a time when a bill on sexual violence was being debated in the House of Representatives (lower house of the assembly).
The proposed legislation has been received well by activists but is being opposed by some conservative groups.
Parties such as Prosperous Justice Party (PKS in Indonesian) argue that the bill will promote “free sex” because it proposes decriminalization of consensual sex outside marriage.
Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population. Nearly 88 percent out of the 260 million habitants in the archipelago are Muslims and most of them practice a moderate form of the Islam, although activists have warned about increasing radicalization.