July 13, 2018 / 11:58 AM / 9 days ago

Indonesia's Aceh resumes public caning despite pledge to curb access

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (Reuters) - Indonesia’s ultra-conservative Aceh province held a public caning of 15 people on Friday, including of two men who received 87 lashes each for having gay sex, despite an earlier pledge to restrict access and only hold canings inside prisons.

An Indonesian man charged with having gay sex is publicly caned outside a mosque in Banda Aceh, Aceh province, Indonesia July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Oviyandi Emnur

Aceh is the only province in majority-Muslim Indonesia to follow Islamic law and imposes public caning for crimes such as theft, gambling and adultery. In 2014, Aceh outlawed homosexuality.

In April, Aceh governor Irwandi Yusuf said he would issue a decree so that caning would be carried out inside prisons and the public and media allowed to witness but not record images or videos. He also said children would no longer be allowed to witness corporal punishment.

Previously, public caning has been livestreamed and uploaded on the Internet, drawing international criticism.

Erwin Desman, head of the Banda Aceh prosecutors’ office, said it had not received any paperwork ordering public canings to stop and called for the issue to be reexamined.

“There are pros and cons for this in society. So we suggest we sit with the governor again (to discuss this),” he told reporters, adding that caning would continue to be held in public for now.

An Indonesian man charged with having gay sex is publicly caned outside a mosque in Banda Aceh, Aceh province, Indonesia July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Oviyandi Emnur

A crowd of around 300 to 400 people watched Friday’s canings, cheering particularly hard during the caning of the two men charged with having gay sex.

Some had brought their children and took photos and video using mobile phones.

Muhammad Hidayat, the head of Aceh’s Islamic religious police force, said the men found guilty of having gay sex had been turned in by members of the community.

Along with the men, nine people were caned for showing affection in public outside marriage.

One woman was caned for selling alcohol and three men for drinking alcohol.

Public canings were introduced in Aceh in 2005 and are supported by many Acehnese.

Aceh Governor Yusuf could not be reached for comment on Friday. Yusuf was arrested by Indonesia’s anti-corruption agency this month over accusations that he took illegal kickbacks for projects. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Reporting by Reuters stringer in Banda Aceh and Tabita Diela in Jakarta; Writing by Ed Davies

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