Indonesia’s Aceh Whips Men for Illegal Gambling Under Sharia Law
Indonesia’s Aceh Province is not known for its liberal policies regarding vices. There is no drinking in Aceh. There is no pornography. In addition, there is no gambling. The most conservative area in a majority Muslim country still does things the old-fashioned way—which means when they catch men gambling online at an internet cafe, they are publicly whipped in front a crowd to jeers.
Indonesia is a country in Southeast Asia that is made up of thousands of volcanic islands. The country emerged after World War II to govern itself, and for many decades after, it was run as a dictatorship. The islands were originally called the Spice Islands, and were prized for their spices, including cinnamon and nutmeg. Muslim traders brought Islam to the islands in the 7th century, and the country has been Muslim ever since. Nearly 88% of citizens are Muslim, with approximately 10% Christian.
Aceh is a province of Indonesia. It sits at the northern tip of one of the largest islands in Indonesia, Sumatra. Aceh has a population of 5.2 million people. It is one of the poorest and most rural areas in Singapore. The province is also overwhelmingly Muslim at 98% of the population. This poverty was made even worse by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, which devastated Aceh, leaving hundreds of thousands of residents dead or homeless. It has only been recently that Aceh is showing signs of recovery. Aceh is the only province in Indonesia that practices full Sharia law on its citizens, which means that the Islamic religious courts are in charge of all matters, criminal and civil, and decide the punishment. The use of Sharia law in Aceh has been cited as inhuman by many human rights groups.
Crime and Punishment
The men were caught gambling on the Internet earlier this year. They were spotted gambling at an Internet café. Internet cafes are popular in Indonesia, especially in areas that do not have access to Wi-Fi. The six men were tried and sentenced under Sharia law to caning. Caning is a practice under Sharia law in which the individual is whipped by a hooded Sharia officer with a rattan cane. Often, the criminal’s bare buttocks are whipped with the cane, but depending on the situation, the person may be allowed to be whipped without their buttocks exposed. While caning in general leaves welts or marks on the skin that lasts a few days, heavy or repetitive caning can leave lifetime scars.
The men were each caned between seven and 11 times by the judge’s order outside a mosque. A crowd gathered to jeer the men and ask for a harsher flogging.
Public caning remains a common punishment in Aceh for lots of offenses. Newspaper reports state that two men were caned the week before the caning for gambling for betting on whether one bus could stop faster than another could. People can be caned in Aceh for everything from gambling, to drinking alcohol, to dancing, to being caught having gay sex. Although human rights activists have called for an end to caning, it has the total support of the population in Aceh. There have been calls to place caning behind the walls of a prison, out of public view. However, the general view in Aceh is if you are found guilty of a crime—especially those involving vice—you get what you deserve.
Human rights activists and social reformers have said that caning for gambling offenses does not stop people from gambling, it just takes the game further underground. Many police agencies have said that while they support public punishments for gaming, they also believe that keeping gaming out in the open may be the wisest move.
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