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article imageWomen worst-hit in Aceh as Sharia police enforces morality

By Subir Ghosh     Dec 1, 2010 in World
Twenty-year-old Nita was caught on an isolated road on a motorcycle with her boyfriend. She was whisked away by the Sharia police. The next morning the head lecturer at her campus lectured her, and told her mother that Nita should be stoned to death.
Nita blurted out, “Sir, I was only trying to look for a shortcut, and I should be stoned for that? What about the officers who raped me last night?”
Nita was apprehended by the Sharia police (Wilayatul Hisbah, WH) in January 2010 for the crime of “seclusion” and then raped while in WH custody. The case of Nita is not isolated in Indonesia's Aceh province where the Sharia police is running riot, armed with its archaic laws. The moral police calls the shots day in and out.
Rohani was a witness to the 2009 beating of her 17 year-old-daughter Sri’s 21-year-old boyfriend Budi by members of her community. The irate villagers believed that Sri and Budi had committed “seclusion” inside Rohani’s home.
The "seclusion" law makes association by unmarried individuals of the opposite sex a criminal offense in some circumstances. While the dress requirement is gender-neutral on its face, in practice it imposes far more onerous restrictions on women.
The horrifying stories are from an 89-page report by Human Rights Watch, Policing MoralityAbuses in the Application of Sharia in Aceh, Indonesia, which documents the experiences of people accused of violating Sharia laws prohibiting "seclusion" and imposing public dress requirements on Muslims. The report (PDF, 1.27 MB) also details evidence that the laws are selectively enforced – rarely if ever applied to wealthy or politically-connected individuals. Aceh is the only province in Indonesia explicitly authorized by national law to adopt laws derived from Islam.
These laws, says Human Rights Watch, are among five Sharia-inspired criminal laws in Aceh on issues ranging from charitable giving, to gambling, to Islamic ritual and proper Muslim behaviour. Human Rights Watch says it has no position on Sharia law per se, but insists that the two laws singled out in the report are applied abusively and violate both Indonesian constitutional protections and international human rights law.
The overwhelming majority of those reprimanded by the Sharia police under the law requiring Islamic attire are invariably women. While the law requires men to wear clothing that covers the body from the knee to the navel, women need to cover the entire body, except for hands, feet, and face, meaning that they are obligated to wear the jilbab (Islamic headscarf). Transparent clothing and those that reveal the shape of the body are prohibited.
Dewi was stopped by the WH for violating the Islamic attire requirement in May 2010. She told this to Human Rights Watch:
I said, “It’s my choice to wear the veil–it’s my business with God.” The [WH officer’s] answer was, “No, there is a rule in Islam that regulates it.” Then they gave back my ID card, and told me that if I did the same thing three times I would be whipped…. I might want to use a veil, but not because I’m forced by the WH, because I want to.
The entire report is also available online here.
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