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100 Lashes: New Law Reveals Indonesia's Split Personality on LGBT Rights

100 Lashes: New Law Reveals Indonesia's Split Personality on LGBT Rights


Aceh province in the world's largest Muslim-majority country has a new law that calls for 100 lashes for same-sex activity.

Human Rights Watch is decrying new bylaws that come from an interpretation of Islam's Sharia Law in the Indonesian province of Aceh where you'll now get 100 lashes with a cane for consensual same-sex acts.

As part of a peace agreement between former provincial rebels and the central government, Aceh is the only province in Indonesia where Sharia Law is allowed preeminence. However, the new bylaws, which also call for 100 months in prison for sex outside of marriage, apply Sharia to non-Muslims in Aceh for the first time.

"The two new bylaws deny people in Aceh the fundamental rights of expression, privacy, and freedom of religion," said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Criminalizing same-sex relations is a huge backward step that the Indonesian government should condemn and repeal. Whipping as punishment should have been left behind in the Middle Ages."

Human Rights Watch has challenged the central government to force a repeal of the new laws in Aceh. That isn't likely to happen since the government is known to "pick its battles" with the once-renegade province that shares the island of Sumatra.

In 2005, the archipelago nation's capital, Jakarta, signed a peace deal with the now disbanded Free Aceh Movement, whose goal was to win a separate, sovereign state. Given the fact that since then, East Timor succeeded in its goal to secede from Indonesia and the fact that Papau province still harbors its own separatist movement, Jakarta may be keen to keep Aceh happy for now.

That's not to say the central government has never demanded that semi-autonomous Aceh repeal one of its provincial bylaws. As The New York Times reported last year, Jakarta demanded Aceh repeal an act that made the flag of its former armed resistance movement the province's official banner.

Although Indonesia has historically been secularly governed, it is still the world's largest majority-Muslim country and has at best a mixed history of tolerance for LGBT people.

Indonesia is a country where LGBT health clinics can be opened, at the same time that gay people are persecuted for being who they are. In fact, Human Rights Watch's 2010 report on Aceh revealed grave human rights violations on the narrow interpretation of Sharia enforced there.

"The Principles of the Islamic Bylaw violate the right to freedom of religion enshrined in the Indonesian constitution and international law by requiring all Muslims to practice the Sunni tradition of Islam," HRW wrote in a statement to the media, noting that the new bylaws impose specific interpretations of the Sunni school of Shafi'i, while largely ignoring other forms of Sunni Islam and completely obliterating practices of Sufism and Shi'a Islam.

"Indonesia's incoming president should treat Aceh's abusive new bylaws as an opportunity to demonstrate a commitment to human rights, and have them repealed," Kine said. "People in Aceh should enjoy the same rights and freedoms as all Indonesians."

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Jakarta is located on the island of Sumatra. It is located on Java.

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