By Nurdin Hasan
Indonesia’s conservative Aceh province publicly whipped 15 people on Friday, including a homosexual couple, despite a pledge in April to hold canings only inside prisons after the punishment drew international condemnation.
Two men each received 86 lashes after they were found guilty in June of engaging in gay sex. The other 13, including five women, were hit with a cane between 13 and 27 times for less serious offences, such as being intimate with the opposite sex while unmarried, and selling alcohol.
A group of Malaysian tourists joined about 1,000 spectators, some of whom mocked those who walked to the raised platform to be caned.
“Come on, strike harder!” one person yelled at the officer who administered the whipping.
“The punishment was carried out publicly because there’s still no technical guidelines on how to implement it in prisons,” said Muhammad Hidayat, the head of the sharia police known as Wilayatul Hisbah in the provincial capital Banda Aceh.
On April 12, local officials signed an agreement declaring that canings would be carried out in prisons despite protests from a legislator and a group of students who said the punishment served as a deterrent.
“We don’t want implementation of this punishment to get in the way of our foreign relations, because of Islamophobia,” Aceh Gov. Irwandi Yusuf told journalists at the time, adding a limited number of spectators would be allowed to watch.
“Children are not allowed inside. Visitors can’t bring camera, or cellphones,” he said. “Can you image if children watch it and see the public cheering, clapping. It is not what Sharia law intends.”
Despite that admonition in April, parents brought their children to witness the caning outside the Baiturrahim mosque on Friday.
Bukhari, a fisherman who goes by one name, brought along his wife and children.
“This is the first time I have seen the canings. I think doing this in public is good, so that people think twice about violating sharia law,” he said.
The two men convicted of gay sex and who had spent four months in detention cringed in pain as the executioner began administering the lashes. One of them had to sit after several strokes.
Wilayatul Hisbah enforcement chief Evendi said the two men were arrested in March after being found together in a room at a beauty salon owned by one of them.
“Locals raided the salon because they suspected that the salon had become a place for immoral activities,” Evendi told BenarNews.
A woman who identified herself as Yanti said she recorded the floggings using a mobile phone, adding that she would post the images on Instagram. Previous public canings have been uploaded on social media, drawing criticism worldwide.
“I’ve come here and watched the canings so I can learn a lesson and avoid acts that are forbidden by our religion,” she said.