Indonesia Debuts All-Women Flogging Squad to Punish Sharia Violators

A religious officer canes an Acehnese woman (L) for spending time in close proximity with a man who is not her husband, which is against Sharia law, in Banda Aceh on November 28, 2016. Aceh is the only province in the world's most populous Muslim-majority country that imposes sharia law. …

Islamic authorities in Indonesia’s Aceh province have unveiled a new all-women flogging squad tasked with punishing fellow women found in violation of Sharia Law, AFP reported Tuesday.

Local authorities deemed it necessary to create an all-women squad to punish an allegedly growing number of Sharia crimes such as premarital sex, which they blamed on the internet and “Western culture.”

Flogging is a common punishment in Sharia for minor crimes. Other “crimes” that result in public whipping include gambling, adultery, consumption of alcohol, and engaging in homosexual activity. Local officials insist they’re “far more lenient” than other Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Banda Aceh’s Sharia Implementation Unit spent three years searching for the team of eight women floggers, trained in “appropriate” techniques to maximize pain but limit injury.

“We train them to make sure they’re physically fit and teach them how to do a proper whipping,” said police chief investigator Zakwan. “It’s kind of an indoctrination that we give to them so they have a better understanding of their role – have no mercy for those who violate God’s law.'”

Last month, a man and woman in Aceh were whipped so aggressively that they fainted. After receiving medical attention, the flogging was ordered to resume.

Despite being officially pluralist, Indonesia is home to 225 million Muslims, making it the largest Islamic country in the world. Federal law is broadly aligned with Islamic law, leading to increasingly stringent blasphemy laws, with a rapidly growing trend towards strict interpretation and the violation of other people’s religious freedoms.

President Joko Widodo has joined human rights groups in condemning punishments such as flogging, although he is ultimately rendered powerless by a 2005 autonomy deal agreed with Aceh under a former government that ended a decades-long separatist insurgency. Although many other people are believed to oppose the practice, the majority are reportedly too scared to speak out.

“People are scared of speaking out to say they don’t support public canings,” Hendra, an academic at Ar-Raniry University told Al Jazeera last year. “They take the attitude that they see them, but that they don’t know anything about the cases or the law. ‘It’s not my concern’ is how many people view it.”

In 2018, senior Aceh officials proposed legislation to pave the way for beheadings, although this ultimately did not come to pass.

“We’re not aiming to hurt people by whipping them,” the Head of the Sharia Enforcement Unit, Safriadi, told AFP. “The most important thing is the shaming effect on violators and spectators so they don’t do it again.”

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