Aceh ‘gay’ men to be caned

A sharia court in Indonesia’s conservative Aceh province on Sumatra has sentenced two supposedly gay men to public caning, further undermining the archipelago’s moderate image after Jakarta’s Christian governor was imprisoned for blaspheming the Koran.

The court said the 20- and 23-year-old men would each be subjected to 85 lashes for having sexual relations.

One of the men cried as the sentence was announced and pleaded for mercy. Chief prosecutor Gulmaini said they would be caned next week, before Ramadan.

Amnesty International’s regional representative Josef Benedict said: “The Aceh authorities must immediately revoke the conviction and the caning sentences and end the use of this punishment, which constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and may amount to torture. These men were subjects of an ambush by their neighbours who stormed into their home, filmed them and handed them over to the sharia police. Every human being has a right to privacy, a right to enter consensual relations, and a right to physical protection.”

The sentencing occurred on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

Aceh is the only Indonesian province allowed to practise sharia law, which was a concession made by the national government in 2006 to end a separatist war, but some other provinces have introduced sharia-style bylaws.

In 2015, at least 108 people were caned in Aceh and around 100 last year. The law was applied to non-Muslims for the first time in April last year when a Christian woman received 28 strokes for selling alcohol.

The men were arrested in late March after neighbourhood vigilantes in Banda Aceh broke into their rented room to catch them.

Mobile phone video circulating online and used as evidence shows one of the men naked and distressed as he tries to call for help on his phone. The other man is repeatedly pushed by a vigilante.

Judge Khairil Jamal said the men were “legally and convincingly proven to have committed gay sex”.

The Aceh Islamic Criminal Code was passed by the Aceh parliament in 2014 and came into effect throughout Aceh Province in October 2015. Sharia laws provide for up to 200 lashes. Punishable offences include sex before marriage, same-sex sexual relations, the consumption or sale of alcohol and gambling. International human rights law prohibits all forms of corporal punishment.

“Canings are regularly carried out in public spaces drawing large crowds where people take photographs and video, which can add to the humiliation and long-term suffering of those who are subjected to this cruel punishment,” Amnesty said.

A college student being publicly caned for being close to a male student at the Baiturrahman mosque in Banda Aceh in December 2015. Picture credit: YouTube