June 13, 2012
A West Java municipality's plans to implement Sharia-based laws and set up a police force to enforce them is testing the limits of regional autonomy in Indonesia, encroaching into areas that are typically the domain of the central government.
If enacted, the law in the town of Tasikmalaya would be the first of its kind in Indonesia outside the deeply conservative province of Aceh, where Sharia law was imposed in 2001.
According to Reydonnyzar Moenek, spokesman for Indonesia's home ministry, Tasikmalaya city leaders would be overstepping their authority if they move ahead.
"Tasikmalaya cannot establish a Sharia police because the regional government does not have the authority to handle religious, legal and defense issues, as stipulated in the 2004 Regional Autonomy Law," Reydonnyzar told Khabar Southeast Asia.
Indonesia implemented wide-ranging decentralisation in 1999, ending decades of authoritarian control under the Suharto regime. Regional autonomy has since been renewed and refined in subsequent legislation. Several areas remain under the domain of the central government, however, including defence, justice, legal, monetary, national fiscal and religious affairs.
Reydonnyzar said the home ministry will study the Tasikmalaya law – dubbed the "Regulation on Islamic-based Community Life Values" – and convene a meeting with local leaders to examine whether it is aligned with national laws.
"As soon as we study the regulation, the Minister of Home Affairs will invite the chairman of Tasikmalaya Council of Regional Representatives and the mayor to discuss it, especially how the regional regulation can be synchronised with the central government regulation," he explained.
Aceh a model for Tasikmalaya?
Nasir Djamil, deputy chairman of the committee for the oversight of legal affairs in the Indonesian House of Representatives, said he would support the proposed laws in Tasikmalaya as long as they do not contradict national laws.
"As long as the purpose of establishing the Sharia police is to bring order to society and to protect society from 'social disease', I think it is all right and appropriate," Djamil, a Prosperous Justice Party [PKS] lawmaker, told Khabar.
Aceh also has Sharia law and a Sharia police force, he added.
However, Aceh is one of five special regions that enjoy a greater degree of autonomy due to historic and cultural factors. Tasikmalaya is not among them.
The Sharia-based law was originally approved by Tasikmalaya Mayor Syarif Hidayat on September 24th, 2009 and is slated for enactment this year. It would require women to wear headscarves in public. In addition, it sets forth a list of 15 punishable offenses, including corruption, prostitution, adultery, homosexuality, drugs use and trafficking, consumption of alcoholic beverages, looking at pornography, thuggery, promoting cults, and abortion.
Andri Kurniadi, 31, a Tasikmalayan Muslim, told Khabar that implementing Islamic values in daily life is good, but the government does not need to establish a Sharia police to enforce them.
"Despite the fact that a majority of Tasikmalaya society is Muslim, the idea of establishing Sharia police would create pro and contra [factions] in society," he said.
"The Sharia police would force people to implement the regulation, and it would just create pressure among us. Even worse, the hardline groups would also force society to implement it," he added.
Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy chairman of the Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy, believes Tasikmalaya's efforts to establish a Sharia police are inconsistent with the Indonesian constitution, which guarantees religious freedom. The city government, he said, should differentiate between private and social issues.
The idea of establishing a Sharia police is "odd", Bonar told Khabar. "Before the regulation is adopted, it must be brought to the Supreme Court to be reviewed."
He urged the Tasikmalayan leaders to collect input about the law from a variety of perspectives, including from women and others whose lives will be most directly impacted by it.