Shariah to be Enforced on all non-Muslims in Aceh

Tucked away in the AP’s “Religion News in Brief”:

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — A bill proposed by lawmakers on the tsunami-ravaged Indonesian province of Aceh would impose Shariah, or Islamic law, on all non-Muslims, the military and police, a local law enforcement official said.

…”Based on the equality in law, Acehnese people have formally proposed…to apply the Islamic Shariah Law to all those residing in Aceh, including military, police and non-Muslims,” said Alyasa Abubakar, head of a local government office which enforces the Shariah on Aceh.

The bill is apparently expected to pass. The news comes a couple of months after the Deutsche Presse-Agentur warned of “Taliban-style Islamic police terrorizing Indonesia’s Aceh”:

In the months following the tsunami, the Aceh government inexplicably began vigorously enforcing a three-year-old provincial statute on Sharia, or Islamic Law. The provincial Islamic law department was unleashed to crackdown on ‘immorality’ – alcohol, gambling, women appearing in public without headscarves or venturing out at night without a male escort.

The ‘Sharia police,’ as they are known across the province, have become a power unto themselves – uneducated, arrogant young men operating outside of any legal framework or rules, human and women’s rights activists say.

This is slightly at odds with a 2004 Jakata Post report, which stated that most of the “shariah officers” were in fact themselves women; however, that report also said that they were on a one-year contract, and perhaps things have changed. Back to DPA:

Their illegal detentions and harassment of women, intimidation of the population and violent behaviour – they’ve publicly flogged more than 135 people for various violations in the past nine months – has earned them comparisons to Adolf Hitler’s ‘Brown Shirts’ in Nazi Germany.

…One young Acehnese woman was publicly flogged for kissing her boyfriend in public, while another 23-year-old has been locked up in Acehnese jail for more than two weeks without access to an attorney after being caught drinking beer. She could be flogged up to 40 times if found guilty by a local religious court.

One incident in particular examines the hard life of those given the job of enforcing the regulations:

Sharia policemen barged into the lobby [of leading Banda Aceh hotel] and arrested three women attending an international conference because they were not wearing headscarves. According to witnesses, an officer screamed at one of the women: ‘The way you are dressed makes my penis erect!’

When the Shariah court was set up, it was touted as “moderate” by provincial governor Abdallah Puteh (a man now serving ten years for corruption, as it happens). However, one would have thought that alarm bells would have gone off when Alyasa Abubakar, who is in charge of the shariah implementation, announced plans in 2004 for staff development:

The Indonesian province of Aceh is considering sending judges and prosecutors to countries in the Middle East for training in Islamic justice.

The head of the Islamic sharia office in Aceh, Alyasa Abubakar, named Egypt and Saudi Arabia as possible training locations.

A 2005 report in the Asia Times gives a bit of background to the implementation:

Although Aceh holds the world’s richest onshore reserves of natural gas, estimated at 40 billion cubic meters, and provided an estimated 11% of the country’s total exports in 2001, less than 10% of this wealth was reinvested in the province. Critics said the autonomy package and the right to implement Sharia, which would also give Aceh a greater share of revenue from these rich resources, was simply aimed at dampening separatist sentiment in the province.

But more recently:

…There are also fears that Islamic fundamentalism has been on the rise since Aceh was opened up following the tsunami. Dozens of radical Islamic groups quickly arrived on the scene then, supposedly to guard against any liberal influence emanating from foreign relief workers and troops.

The alleged missionizing activities of some foreign relief agencies were discussed by me here.

Meanwhile, Abubakar sees his role as a benevolent one. Speaking to a crowd before the mass caning of a group of gamblers in 2005, he explained:

“The canings can be a cure for gamblers. The defendants and their family should not be ashamed because they are helping us to…give lessons to the public”.

Later that year, shariah judge Marluddin Jalil offered a wider public health rationale, as reported in the London Times:

“The tsunami was because of the sins of the people of Aceh…The Holy Koran says that if women are good, then a country is good… Another tsunami is possible…The Holy Koran says that if humans don’t listen to Allah they will be punished.”

However, the Times also included one heartening detail:

The religious police have not always had it their own way. In one incident on the island of Sabang, attempts to humiliate a bareheaded girl backfired when angry villagers turned on them. By the time the civil police arrived to rescue the enforcers they were surrounded by an angry mob flicking lighted cigarettes at them.

Meanwhile, the rise of shariah police in Nigeria was covered by me here.

(Hat tip: Christianity Today Weblog)

2 Responses

  1. […] provinces by putting local Muslims under similar restrictions (particularly in Aceh, as I blogged here)? Or perhaps it’s about promoting Papuan nationalism, with a view to separatism, or at least to […]

  2. […] the hands of a religious police force in Kano was causing problems. The situation in Indonesia is similarly alarming and […]

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