Margareth S. Aritonang, Jakarta – While President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has committed to improving the lives of women across the country, including by ending violence against women and girls, those who live in Aceh face an increased risk of all kinds of violence following the introduction of a discriminative Islamic Criminal Code Bylaw (Qanun Jinayat) a year ago.
The bylaw has unfairly punished women and girls following its implementation on Oct. 23, 2015. Civil society groups have called on the government to impose a moratorium on the implementation of the bylaw to create space for improvement.
The Institute for Criminal Justice (ICJR) recorded that the Aceh Sharia Council had issued sentences for 221 violations of sharia from January to September this year.
Punishable acts according to the Qanun Jinayat include drinking liquor, khalwat (affectionate contact between unmarried couples), liwat (homosexual relationships) and musahaqah (lesbianism) and 180 people in Aceh were caned within the first nine months of this year for these supposed violations.
According to the ICJR, some of the punished locals have suffered between 40 and 200 lashes for going on a date in public or being too physically close to someone of the opposite sex.
Solidaritas Perempuan (Women's Solidarity) documented 33 cases of locals being punished for expressing affection in public or for dating. The punishments were carried out in open spaces where others, including children, could see the caning.
"Qanun Jinayat regulates appropriate behavior for women and girls. It encourages people to think that it is wrong for women to be out of the house in the evening or to be out with men," Nisa Yura of Solidaritas Perempuan said on Sunday.
"Of all the other more urgent things the local administration must do to improve the lives of people of Aceh, they choose to control morality," she added.
Qanun Jinayat is one of 421 discriminative bylaws recorded by the National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan) up to mid-2016.
It was passed after Aceh's special status and autonomy gave the province the power to implement sharia. Aceh was granted special autonomy, including in the formulation of its own bylaws, as part of the Helsinki peace agreement between Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in 2005.
The Aceh administration has since applied sharia-inspired bylaws that regulate behavior. Among other examples, the bylaws force women to wear headscarves, prohibit those of the opposite sex from riding on the same motorcycle, and separate female and male students in schools.
In its first year of implementation, Qanun Jinayat imposes a sentence of caning, varying from 40 to 200 strokes, and fines of between 40 and 2,000 grams of gold, acts considered crimes against Islamic law, but not the country's Criminal Code (KUHP).
Qanun Jinayat is applied to Aceh's Muslim and non-Muslim populations. The Aceh provincial administration claims that the implementation has been a success in guiding public morality.
Forum for Female and Child Victims of Violence activist Samsidar called the bylaw a legal setback that only dealt with minor offenses but failed to curb more serious crimes such as rape.
"These serious sexual crimes are far more harmful to others compared to cases of adolescent courtship and close proximity, but if you violate these less serious crimes, people are caned in public," said Samsidar.
[Hotli Simanjuntak contributed to the story from Banda Aceh.]