JAKARTA – Eleven people were flogged publicly on Thursday for having extramarital relations in Indonesia’s Aceh, the only sharia-law governed province in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.
The accused – five of them couples – were sentenced to between eight to 33 lashes, which were administered publicly in front of dozens of people gathered outside a mosque of the provincial capital of Banda Aceh in the northwestern part of the island of Sumatra.
The couples were flogged for having sexual relationships without being married while another man was sentenced to 33 lashes for committing the same crime with an under-age girl. Those who had gathered to witness the public flogging recorded the scenes on their cellphones.
Aceh province is the only region in the country that imposes strict Islamic laws amid criticism by global human rights groups for following medieval practices.
Ten of the accused flogged are Muslims. The 11th is a Buddhist. Non-Muslims are supposed to be exempted from having to comply with the sharia law, whose last amendment was approved in 2014.
On Wednesday, three people were publicly whipped in Lhokseumawe, located around 275 kilometers (170 miles) south of Banda Aceh, including a couple who was discovered having pre-marital sex and a 19 year-old-man having sex with a minor girl.
Other crimes which come under the ambit of sharia law include gambling, drinking or trading 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 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.
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.