Two new laws being deliberated in Aceh's parliament (DPRA) could make caning far more common in the province by lengthening the list of offenses that carry the sentence and making the punishment mandatory.
DPRA Deputy Chairman Sulaiman Abda said the two draft regional laws or qanun are urgently needed as part of efforts to enforce Sharia law more fully in the province, and that various sectors of society are pressing for their immediate passage, which he hopes to see this year.
Deliberations on the matter in a special committee of the DPRA have included ulema, academics, activists, police officers, lawyers, and community leaders, to ensure the resulting bylaws are "of good quality and acceptable to Acehnese society," he told Khabar Southeast Asia.
Broader laws with stiffer punishments
The new laws are intended to correct what Sulaiman said were weaknesses in four bylaws in place for the last ten years on gambling, alcohol use, khalwat – unmarried men and women being alone together – and syiar Islam, a broad category related to promoting an Islamic environment.
"The weakness of the existing qanun is that public caning is carried out only on violators who are willing to be caned on their own volition, after being convicted in a Sharia court," Sulaiman said. In addition, Sharia law violators cannot be detained under existing law.
The new laws would enable authorities to detain violators during prosecution and trial, and make punishment mandatory, according to a draft obtained by Khabar.
They outline several additional offenses and specify penalties ranging from 40 to 400 lashes in public, compared to three to 40 under existing laws. The law would sentence alcohol users to 40 lashes or 40 months in jail, and gamblers to 60 lashes plus a fine of 60 grammes of pure gold, or 60 months in jail.
Adulterers would receive 100 lashes, and rapists 100 to 200 lashes, or the equivalent number of months in jail. The rape of a child would be punishable with up to 400 lashes or months in jail.
A person found guilty of sexual harrassment would receive 60 lashes plus a fine of 600 grammes of pure gold or 60 months in jail, or twice those amounts if the victim was a child.
Homosexuality would be penalised with 100 lashes, 1,000 grammes of pure gold or 100 months in jail, while a person deemed to have promoted homosexuality could be caned 80 times, fined 800 grammes of pure gold or sentenced to 80 months in jail.
A form of torture?
The chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) in Aceh, Tengku Faisal Ali, said he fully supports the penalties prescribed in the draft laws.
"With heavy penalties, there will be no more violations of Sharia law. People will think more before committing any acts prohibited by our religion," he said.
"Most importantly, it is indicative of the willingness of the government to seriously enforce Islamic law in Aceh," he added.
Syahrizal Abbas, the head of Islamic Sharia Agency in Aceh, called the proposed laws "quite humanist" because they give judges sentencing alternatives, from lashes and fines to jail time.
But Destika Gilang Lestari, co-ordinator for the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) in Aceh, expressed opposition to caning.
"Kontras rejects any kind of corporal punishment, because it is a form of torture that violates higher laws. Indonesia has ratified the anti-torture convention," she added, referring to the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
She expressed concern that the new laws would place greater economic and physical burdens on regular Acehnese.
During the past decade, no government official found guilty of violating sharia law in Aceh has been caned; only regular citizens have submitted to the punishment.
"In Aceh Besar, there are four officials sentenced to 12 lashes for gambling in 2011, but the sentence has never been executed," said Muhammad Rusli, head of the Pamong Praja and Wilayatul Hisbah police units in Aceh Besar.
Jamaluddin Usman Ismail, an Acehnese working for a private company in Banda Aceh, said he hoped the new bylaws would be fairly enforced.
"I hope these qanun will apply to anyone regardless of their status, including government officials and regular Acehnese," he told Khabar. "No more corruption for government officials in Aceh, because it is also prohibited by Islam."