Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Flogged because they were selling food along roadsides, during the daily period of fasting and prayer in the month of Ramadan. This is the punishment handed down to at least nine people in Banda Aceh, the province of Aceh, the extreme western point of the Indonesian archipelago, the only area in the nation where sharia, or Islamic law, is rigorously applied.
The local government – in particular mayor Illiza Sa'aduddin Djamal - confirms its "zero tolerance" of practices and behavior that contradict the Muslim faith, above all in this holy period of fasting and prayer. Among these is the sale, from dawn to 4 pm, of food and beverages.
As reported in recent days by the Christian newspaper Sinar Harapan, authorities arrested nine food vendors within their kiosks, for selling food in the traditional Pneunayong market, in the city center. During the police operation, officers also seized food and drinks that had already been sold to private citizens as they were about to consume them.
Those arrested include the owner of a kiosk and his eight assistants. According to Bukari, head of the security services, he was helping people (non-Muslim) not observing the fast "to get food and drinks." The obligation of fasting in reality should only apply to the followers of Islam in Aceh but, unlike the other provinces of the country, the Muslim rules are imposed on the entire population.
A large majority of the local population seem to be in favor of the application, confirming an increasingly radical and invasive form of the Islamic faith in civil society. The issue of the sale of food during Ramadan had already been the subject of a hard stance by the mayor Illiza Sa'addudin Djamal, who decreed that every grocery store should be closed and "any violation of the law will be punished with the utmost vigor".
Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, has increasingly become the scene of attacks or episodes of intolerance against minority groups like Christians and Ahmadi Muslims.
Aceh is the only Indonesian province to enforce Islamic law (Sharia). This special situation was part of a peace agreement signed by the central government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). However, a more radical and extreme vision of Islam is also spreading in other parts of the country (like Bekasi and Bogor regencies in West Java).
However, the decision to toughen laws, regulations, rules and customs has failed to find favour with a large proportion of the local population, forced to change long held customs and habits.
Many in Aceh oppose greater restrictions, especially with regards to women wearing jeans and tight skirts , travelling astride motorcycles, or dancing in public because they "stir desire" and a ban on St. Valentines Day. The latest case concerns the decision to introduce a "curfew" for women, officially to reduce sexual harassment.