Indonesia: New law in Aceh makes adultery punishable by stoning

The Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) international solidarity network and the Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women (SKSW Campaign) are gravely concerned to learn of a set of regressive new laws introduced in Aceh, Indonesia on 14 September 2009. Indonesia's province of Aceh has passed a new law that imposes severe sentences for consensual extra-marital sexual relations, rape, homosexuality, alcohol consumption and gambling. Previously, Aceh's partially-adopted Sharia law enforced dress codes and mandatory prayers. "This law is a preventive measure for Acehnese people so that they will avoid moral degradation," said Moharriyadia, a spokesman for the Prosperous Justice Party.
The legislation was passed unanimously by Aceh's regional legislature. "This law will be effective in 30 days with or without the approval of Aceh's governor," said assembly member Bahrom Rasjidhe. The governor of Aceh, a former rebel with the Free Aceh Movement, is opposed to strict Sharia law. He had urged more debate over the bill. A new parliament will be sworn in next month, after local polls saw the moderate Aceh Party win the most seats in the provincial assembly. The Aceh Party has said it will review the law once the new parliament is sitting. "It needs more public consultation. We need to involve the ulemas - the Islamic clerics - in drafting the law," said Adnan Beuransah, a spokesperson for the Aceh Party. About 90% of Indonesia's 235 million people are Muslim, practicing a moderate form of the religion.

Sharia law in Aceh

The sharia law has been steadily expanding in Aceh over the last eight years. The Sharia Court (Mahkamah Syar’iyyah) was established in 2001 as part of the special autonomy granted the province. In 2002, the Aceh Legislative Council enacted the qanun (legal code) of the Sharia Court. The Sharia Court was formally inaugurated by Presidential decree in 2003. In 2004, there was a formal transfer of some criminal jurisdiction (jinayat) from the General Court to the Sharia Court by the decree of the Supreme Court. In 2005, the Sharia Court was in full operation and executing its verdicts. Among the laws that has been passed are mandatory headscarves for women, prohibition on alcohol, morality policing, compulsory prayers, and caning sentences meted out for gambling.

On Monday 14 September 2009, the expansion of sharia law took a quantum leap with the legislation of new punishments that are cruel, inhuman and degrading:

• Adultery: 100 cane lashes for the unmarried and stoning to death for those who are married • Homosexuality: 100 cane lashes and a maximum fine of 1,000 grams of fine gold, or imprisonment of up to 100 months • Pedophilia: Up to 200 cane lashes and a fine of up to 2,000 grams of fine gold, or maximum imprisonment of 200 months • Rape: At least 100 cane lashes and maximum 300 cane lashes or imprisonment of at least 100 months and a maximum of 200 months

Both opponents and supporters of the new law demonstrated outside parliament. According to news reports, all members of the 69-seat house voted for the bill, although some parliamentarians had previously voiced their opposition. Assembly member and supporter of the bill, Bahrom Rasjid, stated “This law will be effective in 30 days with or without the approval of Aceh’s governor”. It has been reported that the Governor of Aceh, a former rebel with the Free Aceh Movement, is opposed to the imposition of strict Muslim laws. Moderates are urging more debate over this bill, involving religious leaders and the opinions of civil society.

These new laws affect not only women, but in practice, women are far more likely to become victims of stoning. Even though there is no article in law that mandates punishment by stoning exclusively for women, patriarchal and discriminatory practices, interpretations and policies, as well as biological differences such as pregnancy, make women far more likely than men to be found guilty of so-called “adultery”.

Other than the sentence of stoning to death, the new Qanun Jinayah (Islamic Criminal Legal Code) will bring about the following problems:

• Simplification of the problems of rape (the threat of the law lumping together rape cases with cases of consensual sex outside marriage, i.e. zina) • Legalisation of rape in the household • Making the victim of rape the guilty party (which should actually be the rapist) if the victim were to report that she had been raped but is unable to provide four male witnesses who saw her being raped • Impunity given to rapists who rape at the command of superiors with authority – a frightening prospect if Aceh were to be again a site of military operations, as the rapists would be able to rape freely with this law • Harsh criminalization of alleged “homosexual behaviour” based on dressing and mannerisms

The potential for conflict between communities is already beginning to be visible. Fokus (a pseudonym used by a KAMMI activist) has communicated to the media that they are going to chase out of Aceh those who ask for the Qanun to be rejected. Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS), the fundamentalist Justice and Prosperity Party, said in a press conference in Aceh (17 September 2009) that all those who oppose the Qanun Jinayat are the stooges of “foreigners.”

In Lhokseumawe, “religious people” who are arrested for assaulting others are asking for their cases to be moved from the General Court to the Sharia Court. They feel that the Sharia Court will judge them favourably because what they have done is to implement the Islamic sharia, according to how the Qanun is supposed to have regulated the duties of society.