Non-Muslims caned for first time under Aceh's syariah law

A Buddhist man being caned on Friday, watched by officials. Aceh has been able to cane non-Muslim offenders since 2015 after overhauling its regulations.
A Buddhist man being caned on Friday, watched by officials. Aceh has been able to cane non-Muslim offenders since 2015 after overhauling its regulations.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

JANTHO (Aceh) • Indonesia's only province to impose syariah law has caned Buddhists for the first time, after two men accused of cockfighting opted for punishment under its strict Islamic regulations.

Alem Suhadi, 57, and Amel Akim, 60, both Chinese members of the Buddhist minority, were whipped on Friday in front of dozens of local officials and residents in the city of Jantho in Aceh. The two men grimaced as they received nine and seven lashes on their backs respectively. Their sentences were mitigated because they had spent over a month in detention since police nabbed them in Aceh Besar in January.

"When they were arrested, two chickens and 400,000 rupiah ($42.29) of betting money were confiscated by the police," said prosecutor Rivandi Aziz.

Caning is common in Aceh for breaking the province's strict Islamic laws, for offences ranging from drinking alcohol and gambling to having gay sex. In the past, only Muslim residents could be caned, but that changed in 2015, when Aceh's regulations were overhauled.

Non-Muslims who violate Islamic law can choose to be tried under either the national legal system or Islamic laws. The two Buddhists would likely have faced jail under Indonesian national law.

"We live in Aceh, so we have to obey the regulations in our region," Alem told Agence France-Presse, shortly after being caned.

A Muslim was also lashed seven times for betting on cockfights on Friday, while a man accused of abusing three teenagers was lashed 112 times.

Aceh began implementing syariah law after being granted special autonomy in 2001, an attempt by the central government in Jakarta to quell a long-running separatist insurgency.

Islamic laws have been strengthened since the province struck a peace deal with Jakarta in 2005.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 13, 2017, with the headline 'Non-Muslims caned for first time under Aceh's syariah law'. Print Edition | Subscribe