A Shariah court in Indonesia’s highly conservative Aceh province has convicted two men of having gay sex and has sentenced them to public caning for the first time, further undermining the country’s moderate image following the imprisonment of a Christian politician imprisoned for blasphemy.
The court, whose sentencing on Wednesday happened during the same time as International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, said the men, aged 20 and 23, would each receive 85 lashes for having sexual relations. One of the men cried as his sentence was read out and pleaded the judges for leniency. The chief prosecutor, Gulmaini, said they will be caned next week before the beginning of Ramadan on May 25.
The couple was arrested in March after vigilantes in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, suspected the men of being gay and broke into their rented room to catch them having sex. A mobile footage that circulated online, which formed part of the evidence, shows one of the men naked and distressed as he made a phone call for help. The second man is shown to be continuously pushed by another man who is preventing the couple from leaving the room.
Lead judge Khairil Jamal said the men were “legally and convincingly proven to have committed gay sex.”
He added that the three-judge panel decided not to impose the maximum sentence of 100 lashes because the men were polite in court, cooperated with authorities, and had no previous convictions.
“As Muslims, the defendants should uphold the Shariah law that prevails in Aceh,” Jamal said.
International human rights groups describe the treatment of the men as abusive and humiliating, calling for their immediate release. Human Rights Watch said in April that public caning constitutes as torture under international law.
Despite being known as a country that practices a moderate form of Islam, Indonesia has been battered in the past year due to attacks on religious minorities, a surge in persecution of sexual minorities, and a polarizing election campaign for governor that indicated the growing strength of hard-line Islamist groups.
Earlier this month, the outgoing Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian Chinese-Indonesian, was sentenced to two years in prison for campaign comments that were viewed as blaspheming the Quran. The judges also imposed a tougher sentence than that sought by prosecutors who had ultimately downgraded the charge from blasphemy and asked for just two years of probation.
Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher for Human Rights Watch, said: “the prosecution is very harsh.”
“It shows the increasingly conservative judiciary in Indonesia,” he added.
Aceh, which rests on the northern-most part of Sumatra Island, was allowed by the national government to practice strict Shariah law in 2006, a concession made to end a war with separatists. However, there are concerns that other areas have introduced Shariah-style laws.
Two years ago, Aceh expanded the Islamic criminal code by allowing up to 100 lashes for morality offences, including gay sex.
This punishment is also applied for other perceived morality offences such as adultery, gambling, drinking alcohol, women who wear tight clothes, and men who skip Friday prayers. Last year, more than 300 people were caned by the Aceh Shariah court.