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Aceh Province Legislators Vote to Impose Stricter Sharia Law

  • Katie Hamann

Lawmakers in the Indonesian province of Aceh have passed a law that could see Muslim adulterers stoned to death. Religious parties have pushed for a stricter interpretation of Sharia law to be enforced in the region. But the religious parties' influence may be waning and there are doubts the new law will be implemented.

Aceh's newest Sharia regulation includes punishments for Muslims found guilty of consuming alcohol, rape, pedophilia and homosexuality. Only married adulterers could face being stoned to death.

Caning has already been used in the province for several years, a punishment meted out for Muslims found guilty of gambling and drinking, and for unwed couples caught fraternizing.

United Development Party and legislative member Bachrom Rashid said the new law is designed to save people from hell.

He says Sharia law is already being applied in Aceh and all Achenese people are Muslim. He says as a Muslim, it is impossible for him to refuse the regulations of Allah.

Aceh's Governor Irwandi Yusuf has faced considerable pressure from religious hardliners to implement full Sharia law, although public support for it is weak. The new regulation does not require his signature to take effect.

Indonesia's Legal Aid Institute has already indicated it will challenge the bill in the Supreme Court.

"But Aceh has autonomy so it is very difficult to make some strong statement," said Nur Kholis, a member of the National Commission on Human Rights. "We should respect what we call autonomy, on one side, but we should follow also the national law which mentions that we don't have any type of punishment like stoning." He expresses concern that the regulations violate Indonesia's national law.

Aceh was granted the right to impose Sharia law as part of a special autonomy deal. Peace was finally declared in the province in 2005 after nearly three decades of fighting between the Indonesian military and separatist rebels.

The vote on Sharia took place on Monday, just hours before the parliament session ended. In October, a new parliament begins working, one that is not dominated by religious parties. Governor Irwandi Yusuf's secular Aceh party will hold almost 50 percent of the seats.

A spokesman for the governor says he opposes harsh punishments and the government may seek to amend the legislation.

More than 200 million Indonesians are Muslims, but most follow a moderate form of the faith. The national government is secular. Many human rights groups in the country have said they oppose the strict implementation of Sharia law in Aceh.

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