Nurdin Hasan, Banda Aceh – Women's rights activists in Aceh have criticized local authorities in the town of Langsa for insisting on caning a woman there for having alleged extramarital sex, even after she was gang raped by a vigilante group purporting to crack down on vice.
"Instead of protecting the victim of this heinous crime, the authorities want to have her caned," Nursiti, the head of Ureueng Inong Aceh, a women's empowerment group, told the Jakarta Globe on Wednesday. "What kind of government is this that won't protect its citizens?"
She was responding to a statement by Ibrahim Latif, the head of the Shariah office in Langsa, who on Tuesday insisted that the 25-year-old woman and her companion, a 40-year-old married man, would be caned for having an affair – regardless of the fact that they had been assaulted and the woman raped by eight men in the early morning last Thursday.
"That's a very ignorant statement coming from the head of the Shariah office," Nursiti said.
Soraya Kamaruzzaman, from the Flower Aceh women's group, denounced the authorities for doing nothing to address the trauma experienced by the rape victim, instead only adding to it.
"Don't talk about caning her for a moral crime. The main focus at this point should be to ensure that the rapists are punished to the fullest extent of the law," she told the Jakarta Globe.
Both Soraya and Nursiti also asked why the woman was still in custody, nearly a week after being dragged to the police station by the mob that had raped her.
Under the partial Shariah exercised in Aceh, the woman and her companion face up to nine strokes of the cane each. The rapists would have faced the same number of lashes had they been subject to the Shariah process.
Three of them, including a 13-year-old boy, were arrested by police, while five others were still on the loose. "We only detained three rape suspects," Langsa Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Hariadi told Jakarta Globe. "The other five suspects are being sought."
He said that his police officers were not investigate victim's alleged breach of Sharia law. "They're two different cases," he said. "The first is a violation on the Shariah bylaw concerning khalwat, which is being processed by the Shariah police. As for the rape case, it is handled by the district police."
Khalwat refers to forbidden contact between people of different genders. This is not the first case in Aceh of a rape being committed against a woman accused of inappropriate conduct with an unrelated male.
A 20-year-old university student was raped by three Shariah police officers in Langsa in January 2010 after being caught riding on a motorcycle with her boyfriend.
The town's Shariah police chief, Syahril, was subsequently fired and two of the perpetrators were later sentenced to serve eight years in prison each. The third perpetrator has not been caught.