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Indonesia: Impacts On Women’s Rights

Monday 2 November 2009, by siawi2



BANDA ACEH, Indonesia — Under Islamic law, or Shariah, the religious police have administered public canings for such things as gambling, prostitution and illicit affairs. But under a new Islamic criminal code that goes into effect this month, the Shariah police will be wielding a new and more potent threat: death by stoning for adulterers.

Most of Indonesia still lives up to its reputation for a moderate, easygoing brand of Islam, and Islamist parties suffered heavy losses in this year’s national elections. But how Aceh went from basic Islamic law to endorsing stoning in a few short years shows how a small, radical minority has successfully pushed its agenda, locally and nationally, by cowing political and religious moderates.

Though extreme, Aceh is not an isolated case. In recent years, as part of a decentralization of power away from the capital, Jakarta, at least 50 local governments have used their new authority to pass Shariah-based regulations regarding conduct and dress, though none have gone as far as Aceh to deal with criminal matters.

Most experts and human rights advocates believe the regulations discriminate against non-Muslim minorities and contravene the country’s Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion. But the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono — a moderate former general whose Muslim credentials have often been questioned by political opponents — has not challenged them. In fact, Mr. Yudhoyono has backed morality-based laws that pleased Muslim conservative allies but angered advocates of human rights.

The president has yet to comment on the stoning provision, leaving it to his aides to quietly criticize it and clearly hoping that the Aceh Parliament will repeal it. Aceh’s governor has said he will refuse to carry out any stonings, and even supporters acknowledge that the punishment will be extremely hard to apply for practical and theological reasons. Nevertheless, because the governor lacks veto power, stoning could remain on the books.

That would be an embarrassment for Mr. Yudhoyono, who has sought to raise Indonesia’s international standing through its status as the world’s third largest democracy and its most populous Muslim nation. If Aceh’s lawmakers fail to repeal stoning, the central government may be forced into the potentially divisive course of a court challenge to the local application of Shariah, which has gained wide acceptance here.

Just before noon prayers one recent Friday — a mandatory session for men — the Shariah police’s all-female brigade hopped onto a Toyota pickup to begin patrols. Dressed in olive uniforms, the officers hewed to the city center, away from the areas worst hit by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. They urged stragglers to hurry to the nearest mosque and exhorted the recalcitrant to yield to God’s authority.

“Dear followers of Islam, people of Banda Aceh,” blared a loudspeaker on the Toyota, “our city has applied Shariah. It’s almost praying time. Close all shops, stop all business activities. No more buying and selling.”

Aceh has long been know as “Mecca’s veranda,” because Indonesians used to travel here to board ships bound for Islam’s holiest city on their hajj, or pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam. Aceh’s self-identity, if rooted in Islam, was always somewhat apart from the rest of Indonesia. Local forces fighting for autonomy, whether from Dutch colonizers or Suharto’s three-decade military rule, always demanded the freedom to carry out Shariah.

So as Aceh separatists and the central government forged a peace agreement in the last decade, Aceh won semiautonomy and the right to Shariah. The authorities began putting Shariah into practice in 2001, widening and reinforcing it every few years with legal revisions. The Shariah police, officially known as “wilayatul hisbah,” or the vice and virtue patrol, began operating in 2005 with 13 officers and now has 62, including 14 women.

As Aceh’s provincial Parliament began considering a more comprehensive Islamic criminal code earlier this year, politicians and clerics at first agreed to defer the issue of stoning, which they generally agree is a punishment specified in the Koran for adultery.

But some lawmakers, apparently allied with radical clerics pushed for its inclusion at the last minute, former and current lawmakers said. Afraid of being branded bad Muslims, even lawmakers with reservations endorsed the law, lawmakers said. Six of the seven parties represented in Parliament voted for the law. The holdout — the Democratic Party, which is also President Yudhoyono’s — merely abstained.

“We never openly said that we were opposed to stoning,” said Yusrizal Ibrahim, 49, a Democratic Party member who served as a lawmaker until last month. “Stoning is part of Shariah, and by voting ‘No,’ it would have made it look as though we were against Islam.”

But even the local members’ abstention drew a rebuke from a high-ranking party official in Jakarta. “He told us that if there was no other party opposing it, we should have gone with the flow,” Mr. Ibrahim said.

He added he believed that “stoning was against human rights.” But he said he would have never “dared to say so explicitly in Parliament” for fear of being labeled an “infidel.”

Muhamad Nazar, Aceh’s deputy governor, said he hoped that a newly installed Parliament — made up of more moderates — would revise the criminal code.

But new lawmakers interviewed said they were reluctant to broach the delicate topic. Adnan Beuransah, 50, of the moderate Aceh Party, now Parliament’s dominant party, said the issue was a “time bomb.”

“We won’t say whether we oppose stoning or not,” Mr. Beuransah said. “We’ll just focus instead on education, health and more important issues.”

Indeed, now that stoning has become part of Shariah here, even religious leaders fear that opposing it would raise doubts among their followers.

“We can’t tell them to follow Shariah, except this part about stoning,” said Faisal Ali, a cleric who is secretary general of Himpunan Ulama Dayah Aceh, an organization representing 672 Islamic schools, and who believed that Aceh was not ready for stoning yet. “If the people feel that we are not supporting Shariah, they would feel that we are not part of them anymore. That would be an even greater loss because then they wouldn’t listen to us anymore.”

People in Aceh’s rural areas were said to be Shariah’s staunchest supporters, though even most people interviewed here in the provincial capital said they backed the stoning of adulterers.

“If people are caught, they should be given a warning the first time,” said Fati Ibrahim, 43, a mother of four who was buying dustpans at a large store here. “But if they’re caught a second or third time, they should be stoned.

“Otherwise, they’ll give Aceh a bad image. They’ll embarrass us outside Aceh, that we’re not practicing Islam as it should be.” _____________________________________

September 14, 2009


Indonesia’s province of Aceh has passed a new law making adultery punishable by stoning to death, a member of the province’s parliament has said.

The law also imposes severe sentences for rape, homosexuality, alcohol consumption and gambling.

Opponents had tried to delay the law, saying more debate was needed because it imposes capital punishment.

Sharia law was partially introduced in Aceh in 2001, as part of a government offer to pacify separatist rebels.

A peace deal in 2005 ended the 30-year insurgency, and many of the former rebels have now entered Aceh’s government, which enjoys a degree of autonomy from the central government in Jakarta.

The legislation was passed unanimously by Aceh’s regional legislature, said assembly member Bahrom Rasjid.

“This law will be effective in 30 days with or without the approval of Aceh’s governor,” he said.

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.

’Moral degradation’

Married people convicted of adultery can be sentenced to death by stoning. Unmarried people can be sentenced to 100 lashes with a cane.

Previously, Aceh’s partially-adopted Sharia law enforced Muslim 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.

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, practising a moderate form of the religion.