UPDATE: Aceh: Civil society groups advocate for repeal of Qanun Jinayah (Islamic Criminal Legal Code)

The Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML) international solidarity network and the Global Campaign to Stop Killing and Stoning Women! (SKSW Campaign) join their allies in Indonesia in continuing to call for the repeal of a law (or 'qanun') passed by the Aceh Legislative Council (DPRD) on Monday 14 September 2009, that expands the range of violent punishments for alleged moral and sexual transgressions, including stoning to death for “adultery” and 100 lashes for homosexuality.

Such cruel punishments can never be justified in the name of ‘religion’, ‘culture’ or ‘tradition’. For the first time, stoning to death would be codified in the Indonesian legal system and Islamic jurisdiction would be expanded into criminal law. We welcome the news that the Governor of Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam has expressly stated that he would not sign the Qanun Jinayah, and that he has returned it to the Aceh legislature. The governor is also reported to be providing an opportunity for Aceh’s civil society groups to propose an improved set of laws in the place of Qanun Jinayah.
Local allies in Aceh at the forefront of this campaign are requesting WLUML networkers to continue focusing their advocacy on the eventual cancellation of this law. Koalisi NGO HAM* urges us all to keep disseminating information about this law and to join them in endorsing the Indonesian government’s proposal to further involve civil society groups in the creation of laws that serve the interests of all citizens, in particular the most economically disadvantaged. We are also urged to ask international bodies and governments to put more pressure on the Indonesia government to repeal any laws that discriminate against citizens in the name of religion, and to open up a space in which people can freely discuss and determine the needs of the people of the region without fear of religious backlash, and to urgently address the high rate of poverty in Aceh.

Please support this call by writing a letter to the President of Indonesia calling on him to stand firm on his commitment to women's rights and human rights, and to the Governor of Aceh welcoming his refusal to sign the law. Please also send letters to other Indonesian authorities.
*In collaboration with other organizations, the Coalition of Human Rights Organizations (Koalisi NGO HAM) is one of the leading human rights organisations in Aceh advocating against regulations and policies that are particularly discriminatory to marginalized groups. Koalisi NGO HAM has been actively involved in several advocacy programs for the Qanun on Reconciliation and Truth Commission, the Qanun on Education, the Qanun on the Procedures of Formulating Qanun. Koalisi NGO HAM has been doing lobbies at local, national and international levels to ensure the Qanun is relevant to the contextual needs of people in Aceh.

Background information:

Aceh’s regional parliament adopted the bill despite strong objections from human rights groups and the province’s deputy governor, who said the legislation needed more careful consideration because it imposes a new form of capital punishment. The chairman of the 69-seat house asked if the bill could be passed into law and members answered in unison: “Yes, it can.” Some members of the moderate Democrat Party had voiced reservations, but none of them voted against the bill.

The law, which reinforces the province’s already strict Islamic laws, was to go into effect within 30 days of 14 September. Its passage came two weeks before a new assembly led by the moderate Aceh Party was sworn in following a heavy defeat of conservative Muslim parties in local elections.

Sharia law in Aceh

The sharia law has been steadily expanding in Aceh over the last eight years. The Sharia Court (Mahkamah Syar’iyyah) was established in 2001 as part of the special autonomy granted the province. In 2002, the Aceh Legislative Council enacted the qanun (legal code) of the Sharia Court. The Sharia Court was formally inaugurated by Presidential decree in 2003. In 2004, there was a formal transfer of some criminal jurisdiction (jinayat) from the General Court to the Sharia Court by the decree of the Supreme Court. In 2005, the Sharia Court was in full operation and executing its verdicts. Among the laws that has been passed are mandatory headscarves for women, prohibition on alcohol, morality policing, compulsory prayers, and caning sentences meted out for gambling.

On 14 September 2009, the expansion of sharia law took a quantum leap with the legislation of new punishments that are cruel, inhuman and degrading:

• Adultery: 100 cane lashes for the unmarried and stoning to death for those who are married • Homosexuality: 100 cane lashes and a maximum fine of 1,000 grams of fine gold, or imprisonment of up to 100 months • Pedophilia: Up to 200 cane lashes and a fine of up to 2,000 grams of fine gold, or maximum imprisonment of 200 months • Rape: At least 100 cane lashes and maximum 300 cane lashes or imprisonment of at least 100 months and a maximum of 200 months.

Both opponents and supporters of the new law demonstrated outside parliament. According to news reports, all members of the 69-seat house voted for the bill, although some parliamentarians had previously voiced their opposition. Assembly member and supporter of the bill, Bahrom Rasjid, stated “This law will be effective in 30 days with or without the approval of Aceh’s governor”. It has been reported that the Governor of Aceh, a former rebel with the Free Aceh Movement, is opposed to the imposition of strict Muslim laws. Moderates are urging more debate over this bill, involving religious leaders and the opinions of civil society.

These new laws affect not only women, but in practice, women are far more likely to become victims of stoning. Even though there is no article in law that mandates punishment by stoning exclusively for women, patriarchal and discriminatory practices, interpretations and policies, as well as biological differences such as pregnancy, make women far more likely than men to be found guilty of so-called “adultery”.

Other than the sentence of stoning to death, the new Qanun Jinayah (Islamic Criminal Legal Code) will bring about the following problems:

• Simplification of the problems of rape (the threat of the law lumping together rape cases with cases of consensual sex outside marriage, i.e. zina) • Legalisation of rape in the household • Making the victim of rape the guilty party (which should actually be the rapist) if the victim were to report that she had been raped but is unable to provide four male witnesses who saw her being raped • Impunity given to rapists who rape at the command of superiors with authority – a frightening prospect if Aceh were to be again a site of military operations, as the rapists would be able to rape freely with this law • Harsh criminalization of alleged “homosexual behaviour” based on dressing and mannerisms.

The potential for conflict between communities and backlash is already beginning to be visible. Fokus (a pseudonym used by a KAMMI activist) has communicated to the media that they are going to chase out of Aceh those who ask for the Qanun to be rejected. Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS), the fundamentalist Justice and Prosperity Party, said in a press conference in Aceh (17 September 2009) that all those who oppose the Qanun Jinayat are the stooges of “foreigners.”

In Lhokseumawe, “religious people” who are arrested for assaulting others are asking for their cases to be moved from the General Court to the Sharia Court. They feel that the Sharia Court will judge them favourably because what they have done is to implement the Islamic sharia, according to how the Qanun is supposed to have regulated the duties of society.

WLUML Sample letter on Aceh laws.pdf55.88 KB