THE conservative Indonesian province of Aceh will no longer conduct the Shariah punishment of caning in public, its governor said Thursday. The displays had become public spectacles, attended by hundreds of onlookers cheering and filming the proceedings.
The decision is reportedly in response to criticism of the caning of two gay men that drew international condemnation and damaged Indonesia’s reputation as a moderate Muslim country.
According to the Associated Press (via VOA), a memorandum of understanding signed by Aceh Gov. Irwandi Yusuf and Yuspahruddin, head of the provincial Law and Human Rights office, stipulates that caning can only take place inside prisons or other places of detention.
Under the new rules, adults will still be able to attend the sessions, but attendance will be limited to small number and recording will be prohibited.
“The aim of holding the caning inside prison is to prevent it from being watched by children, without cameras and hand phones,” Yusuf said after signing the memorandum, witnessed by Indonesian Minister of Law and Human Rights Yasonna Laoly.
“The prisoner is punished once, but if it’s recorded on video and that’s uploaded to YouTube, he is punished for life with those images,” he added.
Aceh is the only province in Muslim-majority Indonesia to practise Shariah law. The practise was introduced in 2001 as a concession by the central government to end a long-standing movement for independence.
Caning was implemented in 2005 and has become increasingly harsh since then, covering offences such as gambling, drinking alcohol, homosexual acts, relations outside of marriage, and showing affection in public.
Rights groups are not impressed, saying the amendment doesn’t go far enough.
“Torture is torture whether you do it in public, outside a mosque after Friday prayers, or inside a room, banning anyone from taking a picture,” said Human Rights Watch researcher, Andreas Harsono. “It’s still torture, it’s still traumatising.”