Non-Muslims can be prosecuted under Sharia law in Aceh if they participate with Muslims in offenses not regulated by Indonesian criminal law, under a new bylaw passed in the province late last year.
The controversial clause is contained in the Qanun Hukum Acara Jinayat (QHAJ), Islamic criminal procedure codes, passed by the regional House of Representatives (DPRA) on December 13th, 2013.
The clause pertains to "a violation committed jointly by two or more people, among them non-Muslims", according to a copy of the bylaw obtained by Khabar Southeast Asia.
It also states that non-Muslims who are arrested can choose to be prosecuted in a Sharia court or a state court. But if the violation is not regulated by Indonesian criminal law, the non-Muslim will be prosecuted in Sharia court.
The new bylaws authorise Sharia police, prosecutors and judges to detain violators for 15 to 60 days if an investigation, trial or sentence warrants it. Until now, Sharia enforcement officials have only been permitted to arrest and briefly detain violators for counselling on Sharia norms. They have not had authority to put them in jail.
The QHAJ were sent to the Department of the Interior in Jakarta on February 3rd for final approval, Edrian, head of legal affairs for the Aceh government, told Khabar. If the Minister of the Interior does not respond in 60 days, the new laws will automatically go into force.
The clause pertaining to non-Muslims is to prevent offenders from escaping legal consequences "in the event a criminal offense is not regulated under the Indonesian Criminal Justice Act (ICJA)" Edrian said.
"But in my opinion, there are no criminal offenses that are not regulated by the ICJA and other laws in Indonesia. So the article pertaining to non-Muslims is just anticipatory."
Other legal experts suggested that non-Muslims could be prosecuted under the QHAJ for drinking or intimacy among people not married to one another (mesum).
"Not really needed"
Muslims and non-Muslims alike suggested the new provision is unnecessary.
The Chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) in Aceh, Tengku Faisal Ali, said the article on non-Muslims was "not really needed" and had been introduced in an attempt to prevent full implementation of Sharia law in Aceh.
"For all this time, various methods have been used by certain parties to prevent Sharia Islam in Aceh," he told Khabar. "One of them is to introduce this article regulating non-Muslims, because it is not really needed. It's a purposeful effort to prevent the application of Sharia law."
Local legislators and the Aceh government do not seriously support Sharia Islam and are dawdling in ratifying the latest Qanun Jinayat the DPRA promised to pass in 2013, he charged.
Aki, a respected local Buddhist, said the new bylaw "gives a very strange impression because as far as I know, Sharia Islam in Aceh applies to Muslims only. So why should it apply to non-Muslims?"
Non-Muslims "respect implementation of Islamic law in Aceh. Interfaith relations and tolerance are good. Social interaction is also quite good between Muslims and non-Muslims," he said.
Aki said he and other Buddhists in Aceh were anxiously awaiting the central government's response to the bylaws.
"If the interior minister does not cancel this controversial clause, I will consult with friends who are civil society activists in Aceh, to advocate for judicial review of the article in the Supreme Court," he told Khabar.
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