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Aceh mulls sharia for non-Muslims

Riot act: A sharia police officer censures a group of girls caught wearing tight pants in public in Banda Aceh on Wednesday. The Aceh Legislative Council is deliberating a bylaw that would require non-Muslims to comply with sharia. (JP/Hotli Simanjuntak)
Riot act: A sharia police officer censures a group of girls caught wearing tight pants in public in Banda Aceh on Wednesday. The Aceh Legislative Council is deliberating a bylaw that would require non-Muslims to comply with sharia. (JP/Hotli Simanjuntak)

The Aceh Legislative Council is deliberating a special bylaw that will force non-Muslims in the province to follow sharia.

Locally called Qanun Jinayat (a bylaw governing behavior), the measure would require all residents to follow Islamic code of dress and conduct.

In preparing for the measure, head of the Aceh Sharia Enforcement Office Samsuddin said on Wednesday his office was currently increasing raids on the streets to reduce sharia violations, including by non-Muslims.

In Banda Aceh on Wednesday, two women riding motorcycles were stopped by sharia police for not wearing a headscarf. Since they were not Muslims, the women were allowed to go, but with a warning to start covering their heads in public.

“We hope all women, including non-Muslims, will wear a headscarf,” Samsuddin said.

He added that both Muslims and non-Muslims living in Aceh, the only province governed by sharia, should obey Islamic law.

In addition to stopping bare-headed women, sharia police officers also stopped male motorists — Muslim or non — wearing shorts, warning them to only go out in public wearing long pants.

According to Qanun No. 11/2002, in public spaces women must wear a headscarf and men are forbidden from wearing shorts above the knee.

“If someone is found in violation [of the Qanun] three times, they might receive harsh punishment, such as being caned in public,” Samsuddin said.

Many residents disagree with applying sharia to those of other faiths.

“It would be weird if we forced Islamic law on non-Muslims,” said Hendrawan, a resident of Banda Aceh.

He said non-Muslims should only be subject to national law, which still applied in the semi-autonomous province of Aceh.

“It’s oppression of people of other beliefs,” he said.

Commenting on the province’s decision to apply sharia to non-Muslims, the chairwoman of the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan), Yunianti Chuzaifah, said some Qanun violated human rights.

“Forcing women, and religious minorities, to follow certain Qanun violates human rights,” Yunianti told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

She said women had autonomy over their bodies and identity and the right to practice their beliefs.

“The Constitution guarantees these rights, which is in accordance with basic human rights.”

Regulating the dress and behavior of residents, particularly women, has become the focus of several Qanun.

Last year, the city of Lhokseumawe banned women from sitting in the straddle position when riding on the back of a motorbike. In other regencies, local Qanun have been passed forbidding women from wearing pants.

Human rights activists have criticized the draft of the bylaw, one of the articles of which clearly states that a person who commits adultery could face 100 cane lashes, or death.

Overzealous implementation of sharia has at times had high human cost. In 2012, a teenage girl in East Aceh was arrested by sharia police at a nighttime music show in the company of male relatives for suspected prostitution. The shame of the allegation drove her to commit suicide.

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