Indonesian Men Caned For Gay Sex Before Jeering Crowd

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Jakarta: Two Indonesian men were caned Tuesday in front of a jeering crowd as a punishment for gay sex, in a first for the Muslim-majority country where there is mounting hostility towards the small LGBT community.

The pair, aged 20 and 23, received 83 strokes of the cane each after being found guilty of breaking sharia rules in conservative Aceh province, the only part of Indonesia that implements Islamic law.

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They were led onto a stage set up outside a mosque in front of a crowd of thousands, who jeered and booed loudly. The pair, whose identities have not been revealed, bowed their heads as they were whipped by officials who wore dark robes and masks with eye slits, and used thin rattan canes.

One of the men grimaced occasionally and the other showed little emotion. Before the caning, Abdul Gani Isa, a member of the Acehnese clerics’ council, told the crowd the caning was “a lesson for the public”. “Lessons carried out with our sharia law are conducted in a very thoughtful way, are educational and do not violate human rights,” he said.

Their sentences, which were carried out in the provincial capital Banda Aceh, were reduced by two strokes of the cane due to time already served in detention. The gay men were caught together in March by vigilantes who burst into the house where they were staying.

Shaky phone footage of the raid that circulated online showed the vigilantes kicking, slapping and insulting the men, with one of them slumped naked on the ground during the attack. The punishment, condemned by rights groups, marked the first application of anti-homosexuality laws introduced in the province in 2014.

Aceh has long had a reputation as Indonesia’s most conservative region. It is the only province that criminalises same-sex relations and that uses Islamic law as its legal code in addition to the national criminal code. Up to 1,000 people, many filming with smartphones, watched as the two men received 82 lashes each. Many others watched the punishment being meted out on a livestream video.

Some in the crowd carried banners rejecting the presence of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Aceh. “I hope there won’t be any more such cases of homosexuality, it is shocking,” said Eni Tri Retnaningsih, a 20-year-old student who said she had watched others caned before for other offences such as adultery.

Under pressure

At least eight other men and women were caned for other offences ahead of the punishment of the two found guilty of having gay sex. Police separated men and women in the crowd as proceedings began, with 10 men in brown robes and hoods preparing a bundle of canes in case any broke during the flogging.

The beatings were delivered on the clothed backs of the men and women, some of whom cried out in pain with each stroke. In some cases, the caning was suspended briefly if the offender signalled they were in too much pain.

Aceh is Indonesia’s most westerly province, on the northern tip of Sumatra island, where Islam first took hold in the archipelago. The province caned 339 people in 2016 for a range of crimes, according to Human Rights Watch.

Indonesia has the world’s largest population of Muslims but is officially a secular country. Most Muslims practice a moderate form of the religion. Religious police in Aceh have also been known to rebuke Muslim women without headscarves or those wearing tight clothes, and people drinking alcohol or gambling.

Aceh is the only province allowed to implement sharia Islamic law under a special agreement that was signed in 2005 to bring an end to a bloody separatist movement.
Homosexuality is not illegal under Indonesian national law, but the LGBT community has come under pressure since government officials expressed reservations last year about activism by its members.

Police in the capital, Jakarta, detained more than 140 men in a raid on a gay club on Sunday on suspicion of violating pornography laws. Rights groups and activists have raised concern over the persecution of minorities, moral policing and violations of privacy and expression. A presidential spokesman declined to comment on the caning.

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