A female flogging squad in Indonesia’s Aceh province has been engaged recently.

Reports by media including reports by AFP and The Jakarta Post said:

The members of the squad sometimes unleash flurry of lashes as part of their duty.

They watch for morality crimes in Aceh, the only region in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation that imposes Islamic law – known as Sharia. Those found guilty of breaches are often publicly whipped with a rattan cane.

The squad members’ controversial punishment enrages rights activists and generates heated media debate, as well as amongst politicians.

Indonesia’s president has issued a call for the public floggings to stop but he has little say over what happens in Aceh, a deeply conservative region on Sumatra island.

Unlike the rest of the nation, Aceh follows religious law as part of a 2005 autonomy deal agreed with the central government that ended a decades-long separatist insurgency.

Here, public whipping remains a common punishment for scores of offenders for a range of charges including gambling, adultery, drinking alcohol, and having gay or pre-marital sex.

More and more women are being charged for morality crimes such as public affection or premarital sex, experts say, as greater internet access and globalization bring clashes with local cultural and religious norms.

Enforcement too has increased and now Aceh says it’s trying to follow Islamic law, which calls for women to whip female perpetrators. This is already what happens in neighboring Malaysia.

But convincing women to participate has been no easy task, and it’s taken years to assemble the first female squad, according to Safriadi, who heads provincial capital Banda Aceh’s Sharia Implementation Unit.

Eight women, Sharia officers, agreed to be floggers and were trained in the appropriate technique and advised how to limit injury.

Previously, a dozen men performed all the whippings in the city for an unspecified fee.

For security reasons, Aceh officials declined to let journalists with the floggers, who are outfitted in cloth masks and loose fitting brown uniforms to hide their identities.

The secret for any whipping is getting past the mental hurdle of lashing fellow citizens.

For that, you need to look to God, said an official connected to the squad.

“It’s kind of an indoctrination that we give to them so they have a better understanding of their role – have no mercy for those who violate God’s law’, he added.

Aceh officials insist caning deters crime, with patrols often scouring public places and establishments – or acting on tip-offs – to monitor behavior.

Sharia police in Banda Aceh, a city of some 220,000 people, are on the streets round-the-clock in three shifts.

On a recent patrol, a couple sitting close to each other on the beach escaped with a reprimand.

But a group of men and women spotted at a coffee shop around 3:00 am were not so lucky and were arrested on suspicion of breaking strict codes about unmarried men and women interacting.

“This shows that we never sleep looking for violations of Sharia,” Safriadi said.

From behind bars, one of the men said that there was nothing romantic happening at the coffee shop.

“We don’t even know the women and were sitting at different tables,” he told AFP.

The women were later released with a reprimand as were the men, but police said the trio may be charged for a new offence, after it was determined they were gay.

Same-sex relations can earn residents a whipping in front of jeering crowds, which can number in the hundreds.

“Sharia in Aceh is still lenient,” said resident Saiful Tengkuh.

“Aceh needs harsher punishments like stoning, not just whipping. Someone committing adultery should be stoned 100 times,” he added.

Aceh, home to about 5 million people, once mulled beheading for serious crimes, but the central government ruled it out.

This summer, it made headlines over a fatwa, or religious edict, against online game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) and opposing a national women’s football league because it did not have a stadium where only female players, match officials and spectators would be present.

But whipping is often what gets Aceh in the news – unwanted attention local officials say is Islamophobic.

Advocates say many people caught breaking religious law choose whipping as an efficient, if painful, way to avoid a stiff jail term.

But this rough justice can take a toll.

Floggings can be so severe that people pass out or are hospitalized, with the most serious crimes – including gay sex and having a relations with a minor – earning as many as 150 lashes.

Many offenders have fled the area out of shame or because customers deserted their businesses. Few are keen to discuss their experience.

For women, arrest for even a minor violation can lead to victimization, including sexual harassment and rape during arrest, according to research by the Network for Civil Society Concerned with Sharia.

Reporting these assaults without proof can even open up victims to flogging for making a false accusation, it added.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have condemned such punishments as “barbaric”, “inhumane”, and tantamount to torture.

But Aceh officials insist they are “far more lenient” than ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia and some other Muslim nations.

“We’re not aiming to hurt people by whipping them,” Safriadi said.

“The most important thing is the shaming effect on violators and spectators so they don’t do it again.”

Two persons whipped unconscious

In December 2019, a man and woman were whipped until they passed out during separate public punishments by authorities in East Aceh, Indonesia.

The 22-year-old man was beaten unconscious and required resuscitation during a punishment of 100 lashings for extramarital sex in front of 500 jeering spectators.

He was reportedly revived and given medical attention before the flogging resumed.

In a separate incident, a woman who was sentenced to 30 lashes fell unconscious during her punishment in Aceh Tamiang.

Amnesty International UK said her punishment, which may be resumed at a later date, was for being found “in the company of a man other than her male guardian.”

In the East Aceh flogging, the man’s two co-defendants, another man and a woman, received the same punishment.

Amnesty International UK said the 22-year-old was taken to hospital after the end of his punishment.

Public canings are regularly carried out in the province of Aceh and draw large crowds who are allowed to take photographs and video of the beatings.

Following the enactment of the Special Autonomy Law in 2001, conservative sharia by-laws have come into force and are enforced by Islamic courts in the province.

In some cases, these laws come with punishments of up to 200 lashes for offences such as consensual sex outside marriage, same-sex sexual relations and gambling.

Aceh province is the only part of Indonesia that uses sharia law.

“The fact that two people were beaten unconscious today, in two separate incidents, is a damning indictment of the authorities who let this happen on their watch,” Usman Hamid, Amnesty International Indonesia’s executive director, said.

“These punishments are cruel, inhumane and degrading, and amount to torture”, the Amnesty international official said. “These whippings are a shameful and vicious public spectacle. No-one deserves to face this unspeakable cruelty.”

Mr Hamid has called on authorities to immediately repeal the law allowing such punishments.

In 2017, Human Rights Watch reported more than 500 people had been publicly flogged in Indonesia in the past two years and called for an end to the “barbaric” use of public punishments.

Another woman reportedly could not stand the pain after the executioner hit her 39 times in front of hundreds of people and officials in the front yard of the Aceh Tamiang Islamic Center building.

The 35-year-old woman was found guilty of adultery with a 59-year-old man, who was also punished with 100 strokes.

“She only received 39 strokes out of 100 strokes. The rest of the punishment will be carried out in the next process next year,” Roby said as quoted by Antara news agency

Authorities in the Indonesian region of Aceh must immediately repeal a controversial new bylaw, which imposes harsh flogging sentences for consensual sex in some instances and could make it easier for rapists to escape justice, said Amnesty International today.

“To punish anyone who has had consensual sex with up to 100 lashes is despicable,” said Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s South East Asia Campaigns Director.

Josef Benedict said, “The use of caning as a punishment constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and may amount to torture. Injuries sustained from such monstrous physical abuse may well lead to permanent physical injuries, to say nothing of the psychological consequences of being systematically beaten. This is a flagrant violation of human rights and must be repealed immediately.”

Despite being billed as an Islamic Code, the new Aceh bylaw applies to Muslims and non-Muslims alike for offences, which are not considered crimes under the current Indonesia criminal code (KUHP).

The new code not only expands the range of offences for which caning can be imposed, but also includes new requirements for women reporting rape.

Rape victims must produce evidence of having been raped when filing a complaint. If the authorities deem the evidence is insufficient, the alleged perpetrator can evade punishment merely by taking an oath to assert their innocence. Women will also be less likely to report rapes, as the new bylaw introduces punishments, including flogging, a fine and the possibility of up to 30 months in prison for making “false” accusations.

“This creates unacceptable hurdles for investigating and prosecuting rape and other sexual violence, hindering victims from accessing justice and potentially deterring them from reporting rapes in the first place. This will only further endanger those at threat of sexual violence,” said Josef Benedict.

Equally worrying is the fact that new code may also have serious implications for children as it introduces the offence of “adultery with a child”, potentially treating sexual violence against children as sex outside marriage or “adultery”. This flies in the face of Indonesia’s obligation to provide special protection for children from sexual coercion and violence.

“Indonesia’s human rights obligations apply to laws and practices at whatever level – national, regional or local – and the central government must ensure that human rights are respected everywhere in the country. The decentralization process and regional autonomy must not come at the expense of human rights,” said Josef Benedict.

Background

Although corporal punishment is illegal in the rest of Indonesia, the Acehnese provincial government has imposed caning as a form of punishment for various offences since 2002, under its special autonomy status.

In 2008, the UN Committee against Torture called on Indonesia to review all national and local legislation that allows the use of corporal punishment with a view to abolishing it.

In 2013 the UN Human Rights Committee, which monitors states’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), asked Indonesia to take practical steps to put an end to corporal punishment and to repeal the provisions of the Acehnese law permitting its use in the penal system.

Laws concerning “adultery” have a disproportionate impact on women in a society where discriminatory attitudes attempt to control their sexuality. Social expectations regarding what constitutes “appropriate” behavior for women mean they are more likely to face arrest and prosecution for such “crimes”. Women from poorer backgrounds, who often face arbitrary detention, will be more severely affected as they will not be able to afford legal representation.


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