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INDONESIA: The content of the sharia district regulation must be amended

Contributors: Bustami Arifin

An interview with Bustami Arifin from the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (Kontras) Jakarta published by the Asian Human Rights Commission

AHRC-ETC-046-2011.jpgBustami Arifin, is a staff member of the legal advocacy and human rights division at Kontras Jakarta. He is actively involved in the monitoring of sharia regulations in Aceh.

Background: Based on the autonomous status of Aceh province, the Aceh provincial parliament has passed a new sharia law, legalising many human rights violations, including corporal punishment. Several regencies in Aceh have set up local regulations on implementing the sharia law at the regency level. Calls for a review of the law to bring it in accordance with international human rights norms or national constitutional rights have been ignored.

What is the civil society's response regarding the imposition of sharia law in Aceh?
Substantially, the general feeling of society in Aceh agrees with the imposition of sharia law because based on the historical background, sharia law is already accepted there. However, they reject the corporal punishment and the restriction against woman in that law. They want more humane punishment.

What is the impact of imposing sharia law on society?
The impact on the society is big. People are scared to violate sharia laws, such as going out at night. The announcement of corporal punishment would create shame, not only for the perpetrator, but also their family, thus resulting in a grudge.

What is the problem in imposing sharia law in Aceh?
The problems are some regulations that restricted woman's rights, such as muslim woman having to wear a hijab (the head covering traditionally worn by muslim woman), they also must not wear tight-clothes and cannot go out at night. The corporal punishment also is incompatible with the modern age. The sharia police often misuse their authority, for example in the case of false arrest of the father and her daughter. Under sharia law, an unmarried man and a woman who are together can in the certain circumstances be considered as immoral. In this case, the father and his daughter were arrested because the father picked up her daughter at night and the police assumed that they were an unmarried couple who are together at night.

In your opinion, what is the reason of this problem?
The sharia district regulation was created in hurry. The discussion during the process was also minimal and the content of this provincial law only represents the interests of the elite. Thus, there are so many deficiencies in the provincial law which has resulted in anxiety in the society.

What is the government doing to solve this problem?
The government is not active enough. We still find cases of innocent men being whipped and so many unprofessional sharia police are not held accountable. The government cannot control the situation in Aceh because the sharia provincial law only represents the elite party. Moreover, since the imposing of law no. 44 of 1999 on the implementation of Aceh's special status and law no. 18 of 2001 on the special autonomy for Aceh, Aceh has been given a special status and autonomy, thus Aceh can has their own law and organs, such as sharia police besides Indonesian police. In other words, the government system in Aceh is divided into two systems, the general government and the sharia government. Because of the special autonomy, the government cannot intervene directly with the sharia government, except for public interest. In that case the only way for the government to intervene is through dialogue with the sharia government. Therefore, to solve the problem, we need dialogue between the clerics, society and government to make an integrated perception.

What is the ulama's (Indonesian muslim clergy) response regarding this problem?
Generally, they are open minded. They are quite happy to have a dialogue with civil society. If the argument is responsible and can make a contribution to muslim society, then they will accept our opinion.

What is civil society doing to solve this problem? And what is the result?
We have already created a coalition to face this problem. The coalition has already held an intense discussion, and submitted the legislative review (change the articles considered as causing human rights violations) to the House of Representatives of Aceh (DPR-A) in 2010. The Househas agreed. We have already given the demand for review to to civil society in Aceh. However, the case is not being monitored anymore in Aceh because each party has own business.

In your opinion, what is the best solution to solve the problem?
The House of Representatives of Aceh must change the articles in the sharia provincial law which are not in accordance with human rights. The sharia government must provide capacity building to the sharia police, so they know and understand their authority from legal, social and the cultural perspective. Moreover, the sharia police must be also open to the public, thus creating a good image to them. This action would minimize the problem of misuse of authority, which is usually conducted by sharia police.

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The views shared in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the AHRC, and the AHRC takes no responsibility for them.

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