Aceh moves to make syariah canings private

An Indonesian man being publicly caned in Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province, on May 23 for having gay sex. The conservative Indonesian province currently holds canings in front of mosques, right after Friday prayers, and huge crowds gather to
An Indonesian man being publicly caned in Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province, on May 23 for having gay sex. The conservative Indonesian province currently holds canings in front of mosques, right after Friday prayers, and huge crowds gather to watch the whippings.PHOTO: REUTERS

Indonesian province wants to avoid negative press coverage, impact on foreign investment

JAKARTA • Two months after Indonesia's most conservative province drew international headlines for publicly caning two young gay men for having sex with each other, the governor is considering making such whippings private to avoid negative media attention and prevent any adverse impact on outside investment, reported The New York Times.

The proposed changes in Aceh province have caused a stir in Indonesia ever since local media reported that President Joko Widodo had met newly inaugurated Governor Irwandi Yusuf to discuss ways to improve the province's international image.

In an interview with local media, Vice-Governor Nova Iriansyah said that because of the international attention on public whippings, "we will minimalise press coverage and conduct it inside prisons. Right now it's in front of the mosque, right after Friday prayers."

He added: "I think the national government is right that we have to do something."

In a statement, the governor's office emphasised the provisional nature of the discussions to end public canings. It also noted that the decision required approval from Muslim scholars and Aceh's legislature.

Even as the Indonesian province considers moving public floggings indoors, a highly conservative state in neighbouring Malaysia, Kelantan, passed a law last Wednesday allowing it to hold public canings for syariah law offenders.

Currently, caning in Malaysia is conducted in private, often in prison.

In an effort to quell criticism of Kelantan's move, Malaysia's Minister-in-charge of Islamic Affairs Jamil Khir Baharom yesterday said that a prison whipping can be deemed to be a public caning under Islam.

He said public caning in Islam only requires more than two observers, national news agency Bernama reported.

"In prison there are already more than two people including the doctor who is there to observe, the religious officer, the offender's escort and others on duty," Datuk Seri Jamil was quoted telling reporters in Kedah.

He also said that public caning under syariah law had already been implemented outside the prison in Tawau in Sabah.

Meanwhile Pahang Mufti Abdul Rahman Osman yesterday said that his state could follow Kelantan's lead, if it is shown to be effective in reducing Islamic crimes, reported news website Malaysiakini.

On caning days in Aceh, huge crowds usually gather to watch as convicts are publicly beaten.

Long-time critics of public caning said they were glad to hear the punishment might be phased out.

"It will mean nobody will be publicly humiliated any more," Ms Ratna Sari, the head of progressive group Women's Solidarity, Aceh told The New York Times.

Nonetheless, she said it was only a "small step forward", since canings will still be conducted, only out of sight.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 16, 2017, with the headline 'Aceh moves to make syariah canings private'. Print Edition | Subscribe