An Acehnese woman is lashed in front of the public for violating Sharia law
An Acehnese woman is lashed in front of the public for violating Sharia law HOTLI SIMANJUNTAK

Public lashings in Indonesia dole out tough justice

A CHRISTIAN in Indonesia has been publicly flogged for selling alcohol, which is considered an offence under Islamic Sharia law.

Jono Simbolon received 36 lashes in the provincial capital of Banda Aceh in what is believed to be only the third instance of a non-Muslim being flogged since the city, on Sumatra island, began enforcing Sharia law in 2001.

About 98 per cent of Aceh's five million residents are Muslims and automatically subject to the Qanun religious law.

Non-Muslims who have committed an offence that violates both national law and the laws of a religion they do not follow - such as selling alcohol - can choose to be prosecuted under either system.

Mr Simbolon may have opted for Sharia law because he would rather be flogged than risk a jail sentence.

He was led onto a makeshift stage in bare feet in front of the baying crowd, who took pictures of his ordeal. He was checked by a doctor after being sent reeling following the 10th lash before he was declared fit for the flogging to continue.

He was one of 10 lashed on the same day, including a Muslim woman found to have grown "too close” to her partner in the days leading up to their wedding.

She and her partner both received 20 lashes in front of the baying crowd.

Human Rights Watch this week condemned the government of Indonesia, accusing President Joko Wikodo of "failing to confront increasing intolerance that has led to discrimination and violence against the country's most vulnerable minorities”.

"Jokowi's government is turning a blind eye to worsening harassment of religious and sexual minorities,” Phelim Kine, the group's deputy Asia director, said.

"Officials are using the dangerously ambiguous blasphemy law to target certain religious groups, while the police are carrying out invasive raids against LGBT people.”

Banda Aceh mayor Aminullah Usman defended the use of corporal punishment, saying: "This is our government's commitment to enforcing Islamic law.

"If there is a violation, (people should) immediately report it to the Sharia police and we will carry out a punishment like today's caning.”

Aceh is the only province in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, which implements Sharia law.

Last year, two gay men who admitted having sex were flogged in the province, with each receiving 100 lashes.

Homosexuality is not illegal in the rest of Indonesia, which mainly follows a criminal code inherited from former colonial ruler the Netherlands, but religious minorities face discriminatory laws and regulations as well as harassment, intimidation, and violence from Islamist militants.

In early 2017, the Ministry of Religious Affairs drafted a bill to further entrench the country's blasphemy law as well as discriminatory government decrees, including one that prevents religious minorities from obtaining permits to build a place of worship.

In May 2017, a Jakarta court sentenced former Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian, to a two-year prison sentence for blasphemy against Islam.

Rachel Roberts, The Independent

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