Authorities in Indonesia’s Islamist Aceh province ignored a government ban on mass gatherings on Tuesday to carry out floggings of six people found guilty of violating Sharia, the Islamic law, AFP reported Wednesday.
The official in charge of enforcing Sharia punishments in the region insisted that the Chinese coronavirus would not prevent “justice” from being served, adding they were abiding social distancing guidelines by reducing the number of people involved. However, photos of the punishment showed the victims without protective masks and in close proximity to each other.
“To comply with current conditions, we’re trying to cut unnecessary procedures like the usual opening speech,” the official said. “We just carried out the flogging directly to make it simpler. The whipping will still go on, but we’re limiting the number of people involved.”
Public whippings are commonplace in Aceh, which despite being in the largest Islamic country in the world is the only region in Indonesia governed by Sharia. They are normally watched by around one hundred spectators, although in this instance only around a dozen people were present.
The supposed “crimes” committed by the victims included drinking alcohol, for which four men received 40 lashes. An unmarried couple received two dozen lashes after being caught fornicating in a hotel room. Flogging is also used as a form of punishment for acts such as gambling and adultery.
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus in Indonesia, authorities have repeatedly struggled to prevent devout Muslims from observing public events. Last month, the government pleaded with Islamic leaders to stop holding mass gatherings after thousands of Muslim pilgrims gathered in the provincial city of Makassar.
On Tuesday, President Joko Widodo announced a ban on Idul Fitri, the annual exodus at the end of Ramadan where people return home to their villages and see their families, over fears it would worsen the spread. According to Widodo, more than 30 percent of Muslims intended to ignore his advice, forcing the government to outlaw travel entirely.
The Jakarta Globe reported this week that, after weeks of soaring cases, Indonesia appears to be over the worst of the pandemic after reporting a sharp drop in new cases and an increase in the number of patients recovering from the virus compared to those who died from the illness. As of Wednesday afternoon, the country had so far recorded 7,418 cases and 635 deaths, a relatively low figure given its population of nearly 268 million people.