Aceh province to stop caning criminals in public

A file photo, dated May 23 last year, showing an Indonesian man being publicly caned for having gay sex in Banda Aceh, Aceh province.
A file photo, dated May 23 last year, showing an Indonesian man being publicly caned for having gay sex in Banda Aceh, Aceh province.PHOTO: REUTERS

BANDA ACEH (Indonesia) • Indonesia's Aceh province will stop whipping criminals in public after a wave of international condemnation of the practice, local officials said yesterday.

The conservative region on Sumatra island - the only place in Muslim-majority Indonesia that follows Islamic law - passed a regulation yesterday that will see criminals flogged only behind prison walls.

It is not clear when the new rule will come into effect.

Public caning outside Aceh's mosques is common punishment for a slew of offences, ranging from gambling to drinking alcohol.

A hooded figure on a makeshift stage would rain down lashes on the back of a grimacing criminal as large crowds of adults and children jeer and scream abuse.

Rights groups have derided it as cruel and President Joko Widodo last year called for an end to public whippings in Aceh.

"This (law) is to muffle protest... to muffle Islamophobia," Aceh governor Irwandi Yusuf said. "We don't want Islamophobia to interfere with (Indonesia's) foreign affairs."

Around 98 per cent of Aceh's five million residents are Muslims, subject to religious law, including the public whippings which came into practice around 2005.

Non-Muslims can usually choose whether or not to be punished under religious law and sometimes choose a painful flogging to avoid a lengthy court process and jail term.

Two Indonesian Christians were flogged in February for playing an arcade game seen as violating Islamic law.

Under the new rule, caning with a rattan stick can no longer be recorded - crowds often filmed the punishment on smartphones - and only journalists and adults can witness the whippings inside prisons.

"The prisoner is punished once, but if it's recorded on video and that's uploaded to YouTube, he is punished for life with those images," Mr Irwandi said.

Some locals, however, were not sold on outlawing public whippings. "If caning is done in prison... we're sure there will be more Syariah (Islamic law) violations in Aceh," demonstrator Tuwanku Muhammad said at a small protest against the new legislation in the provincial capital Banda Aceh. "Even now, there are... violations."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2018, with the headline 'Aceh province to stop caning criminals in public'. Print Edition | Subscribe