In Aceh, public flogging seen as deterrent to crime despite rule change

Three amorous couples and two women were publicly whipped in Indonesia’s Aceh on Friday, a week after a new rule said such punishments should be done indoors.

A huge crowd, including tourists from neighbouring Malaysia, stood around a stage outside a mosque in the capital Banda Aceh to watch the punishment being meted out to the eight offenders.

They jeered and threw insults at the three men and five women as hooded figures started raining down 11 to 22 lashes on their backs from a rattan cane.

The couples were punished for showing affection in public while two other women were suspected sex workers.

Aceh is the only Indonesian province that imposes Islamic law. But last week, it passed a regulation that law offenders are whipped only behind prison walls. Under the new rules, caning cannot be recorded and only journalists and adults can witness the punishment inside prisons.

The rule change came after mounting international criticism against the practice. Last year, Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo himself called for an end to public whippings in Aceh.

Some conservative groups are protesting against the end of public whippings saying such punishment act as deterrent to crimes like gambling, drinking alcohol, having gay sex or relations outside of marriage.

Banda Aceh’s deputy mayor Zainal Arifin said Friday’s public flogging showed that the government and locals are still committed to implementing Islamic law.