Aceh: Sharia to be applied to non-Muslims
by Mathias Hariyadi
As the current legislature comes to an end, provincial lawmakers have little time to approve a law that would apply Islamic law to both "Muslims and non-Muslims." Indonesia's Home Affairs minister says he is prepared to challenge the law if it violates national legislation or human rights.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Before the current legislature ends in a few days, a controversial bill is expected to make it through. If adopted, it would impose a Sharia-based Penal Code on Muslims and non-Muslims alike, this according to some provincial lawmakers who spoke to AsiaNews.

A new assembly elected in July is expected to be sworn in next month and the speaker of Aceh's outgoing provincial assembly, Hasbi Hasbullah, is racing against time to get the aforementioned legislation approved.

In his view, the bill is the right way to apply the law and will be binding on both "Muslims and non-Muslims".

Under the new rules, acts and behaviour that are legal elsewhere in Indonesia could be punished with imprisonment and flogging.

Despite criticism from human rights activists and groups that believe that Sharia should be applied only to Muslims, Speaker Hasbullah said that the "ground is ready" in Aceh for the application on non-Muslims of rules based on Islamic law. By contrast, the central government has indicated its intention to block the proposed law.

Sources in the Home Affairs Ministry told AsiaNews that the government would not hesitate from "fixing" local laws if they fail to conform to higher national or regional laws.

Teguh Setyabudi, director of the Home Ministry's Regional Autonomy Desk, said that Jakarta would continue to monitor carefully and, if necessary, block any bill that might endanger peaceful coexistence in Aceh. Currently, Muslims must follow rules based on sharia, but non-Muslims do not have to.

In a statement, Indonesia's Home Affairs Ministry said that the law "may constitute a violation of human rights" and, if so, will be "suspended".

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).

In Aceh, pressures for greater Islamisation have increased following the election of Zaini Abdullah, a former independence leader, to the post of governor in lieu of Irwandy Jusuf, his more secular-oriented predecessor.

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".

For his part, Indonesia's Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi tried to downplay the issue.

"I have no idea about escalating tensions," he said, "because I have not received any official report from the governor of Aceh."