Aceh: activists and civil society groups against Sharia for non-Muslims
by Mathias Hariyadi
The decision by the outgoing provincial assembly would impose Islamic law on Christians and other minorities, such as the obligation for women to wear the veil and the ban on consuming alcoholic beverages. Opponents appeal to the central government to block the new legislation for violating the constitution and Pancasila.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Activists, members of civil society groups and ordinary citizens in the province of Aceh and across Indonesia have expressed their concern and opposition to the application of Sharia on Aceh residents, including non-Muslims.

The decision follows a favourable vote in the outgoing provincial assembly a few days before the end of its mandate (27 September) that imposes the Qanun Jinayat, a Sharia-based Islamic Criminal Code applicable to everyone in the province.

For opponents, applying Sharia-based rules on non-Muslims in Aceh constitutes a blatant violation of the Indonesian Constitution of 1945 and Pancasila, the principles of human rights, pluralism and religious freedom that define Indonesia as a modern state,

Members of Aceh's Hakka Chinese Association are opposed to the forced imposition of Sharia law on non-Muslims, including the compulsory wearing of the veil (hijab) for women.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Prof Siti Musda Mulia, a prominent activist, said that she was "100 per cent" opposed to the application of Islamic law to non-Muslims in Aceh.

Any legislative measure, she added, must be evaluated "carefully" by the country's highest authorities, "especially the central government."

Sumanto Al Qurtuby agrees. A scholar with the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), Indonesia's most important moderate Muslim organisation, he wants Jakarta to fight confessionals bills that "endanger the national unity of the Republic of Indonesia ".

The dispositions of the unified Islamic Criminal Code (Qanun Jinayat) are "very discriminatory and potentially contradictory, and lend themselves to many interpretations," said Prof Mulia.

Recently, many scholars, experts and activists have spoken out, urging the government to stop the code, which is designed to unify in a single body existing provincial laws, some of which date back to 2002-2003, like a ban on the consumption of alcohol and other forbidden "goods", as well as provisions relating to adultery (like caning).

The Setara Institute, a research centre dedicated to human rights and religious freedom in Indonesia, has also spoken out against the code, targeting the qanun (laws) as "discriminatory, intolerant and ignorant of the basic principles of justice."

Since the first Qanun Jinayat were introduced a decade ago, intolerance and violence, especially against women, have risen. Research by the Indonesian Human Rights for Women (Komnas Perempuan) for the period 2011-12 reports at least 1,060 cases of attacks against women in the province of Aceh. Domestic violence is indeed on the increase. Overall, 73.6 per cent of incidents of violence fall within this category.

However, sectarian violence is also up with eight attacks in the first half of 2014.

Activists and human rights groups want to turn the spotlight back on the principles enshrined in the Constitution and on Pancasila, which should take precedence over Sharia in Aceh.

Without them, there is a real risk of a "tyranny of the majority over the minority, with non-Muslims forced to adopt standards that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs."

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