60-year-old Christian woman caned for breaking Sharia law


A 60-year-old Christian woman  in Indonesia’s Banda Aceh province has been caned for breaking religious laws aimed at Muslims. This is significant because it was the first time a non-Muslim was caned under the province’s harsh Sharia (Islamic) laws and sets a precedent.

In other parts of Indonesia,such as Bali, holidaymakers are allowed to drink large amounts of alcohol and wear bikinis. Yet this elderly woman was beaten 30 times with a rattan cane before a large crowd for the crime of selling alcohol. Canings are carried out in public to shame the victim and possibly act as a deterrent. Hundreds gather to watch – some shout insults at the victims, others even video the scene on their mobile phones and share it on social media.

Although Indonesia  is a predominantly Muslim country, Banda Aceh is the only province that is allowed to implement Sharia law. For decades the separatist movement tried to break free from the rest of the country. When a peace deal was struck in 2005 after a devastating tsunami struck the region, authorities in Jakarta agreed to give the province a degree of autonomy, which included the right to implement Sharia law. It now has its own police force dedicated to enforcement of statutes, such as a conservative public dress code.

Since 2005 the province has continued to add more Islamic regulations. Until recently, these Sharia laws applied only to the local Muslim population. However, last October Aceh expanded its Sharia criminal code. Various additional offences became publishable by caning. Members of other religions, including tourists, who committed offences that were not covered by Indonesia’s national criminal code also became liable to prosecution and punishment under the province’s new Sharia laws.

The Acehnese chapter of one of Indonesia’s largest and most influential Muslim organizations, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) had pushed for expansion of the Islamic bylaws. At the time Teungku Faisal Ali, who heads NU’s provincial chapter tried to allay concerns that they could erode relations between Aceh’s various religious communities by saying “The fact is that Muslims in Aceh do tolerate religious freedom and we can coexist without any problems”. He added “We don’t want to raise the impression that Islamic law in Aceh infringes on the rights of non-Muslims …It doesn’t [force] Sharia law on non-Muslims because they are free to observe their own faiths and beliefs.”

Human rights advocates and members of Aceh’s Christian minority voiced concern last year when the new laws were announced about how non-Muslims would be affected although until recently it wasn’t clear just how far that would go.

ACN Malta