09/22/2009, 00.00
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Central government to deal with provincial adultery stoning law

by Mathias Hariyadi
Most people in Aceh are against the law, and so is the national government. Usually adulterers are paraded in public to be shamed or reprimanded in private. For Commission on Violence against Women, the law violates the constitution. However, Islamic scholars argue the law is rooted in centuries-old practices that go back to prophet Muhammad. For Aceh’s rulers, Sharia is counterproductive.
Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Aceh’s recently adopted anti-adultery law could be suspended or repealed because of legal flaws, Indonesia’s Home Minister, former General Mardiyanto, said.

The law, which imposes the death penalty by stoning, was approved by the provincial legislature. It has not yet come into force because it was signed only by the governor and not by the speaker of the local parliament.

Mardiyanto noted that the law is controversial among ordinary Indonesians because it runs contrary the country’s traditional customs, and is creating security and unity problems.

Law and Human Rights Minister Andi Mattalatta said, “The issue should be solved on the basis of the national interest.” In his view, Aceh’s stoning law could dry up investments for the strongly Muslim Aceh.

Even though Muslims constitute a majority of Indonesia’s population (86 per cent), stoning (rajam) is not a common practice. Adulterers are usually paraded in public to be shamed or made to feel guilty. Even this is quite rare. Most Indonesians today prefer re-educating the guilty parties behind closed doors, where the latter are urged not to commit “moral crimes”.

Under Aceh’s new law, married offenders would be pelted with 100 stones, even onto death if that should pass. Unmarried offenders would get 100 lashes with a cane. Also, the law would punish homosexuals and pedophiles with caning and impose penalties on the venues where such acts are performed, namely (hotels, bungalows, rented houses and entertainment sites).  It would apply to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

The controversial law was approved just a few weeks before the end of the current legislature. It was adopted thanks to the votes of the Golkar and the Islamic United Development Party.

In October, a new legislature is set to be sworn in and changes to the law are likely. Most of the new provincial lawmakers were elected under the banner of the Aceh Party, once known as the Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka or GAM), the guerrilla group that for decades fought for local autonomy and reached a peace deal in 2005 with the central government.

Under the terms of this deal, the province was granted substantial legislative and financial autonomy, including the right to implement Sharia. However, many GAM leaders believe that certain violent forms of punishment mandated under Islamic law are too counterproductive.

Aceh’s Deputy Governor Nazar said that the “provincial government would prefer education over stoning. Even cutting off the hand of a thief must be reviewed.  If too many people lose their hands to amputation, they are sentenced to a life of poverty and to stealing again.” Sharia must be moderated; otherwise people will think that the “government is cruel and against its population.”

The national Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan or KP) is also against the law. KP’s director, Kamala Chandrakirana, said that “rajam is against our constitution.”

Some Islamic legal experts disagree. As far as they are concerned, “stoning is part of Islamic law since the time of the prophet Muhammad, even if its implementation should meet stringent criteria.”

Asmawi MA, who heads Islamic Criminal Law and State Administration of Islamic Studies at Syarif Hidayatullah University in Jakarta, said that in order to stone an offender, it must be “determined whether the punishment fits the crime, and this must be done in a trial where charges are backed by four witnesses.”

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