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Moral bylaws thrive, get in the way of tourism in Aceh
Jakarta Post - March 28, 2016
The recent street raid on people who failed to follow the Islamic dress code was part of implementing jinayat, or the criminal law within the sharia perspective, which went into effect on Oct. 23 last year despite strong criticism from human rights activists.
Under the new law, police have up to 20 days to hold suspects and to decide whether they will be detained or released. Additionally, the jinayat also allows police to seize the belongings of suspects as material evidence.
Samsuddin, the provincial sharia police chief, says a perpetrator would be arrested if someone had been caught violating the law more than once, or is deemed "hard to reform"."Then they will be taken to the sharia court of justice," he says.
Women rights activists in Aceh and elsewhere have called for the central government to exercise its prerogative and amend the jinayat that they say has been used to repress civil rights, especially women's rights.
Jinayat brands any "un-Islamic" criminal offense punishable by public caning, imprisonment and/or fines. A convict may receive up to 200 lashes or a fine that has to be paid in the form of up to 2 kilograms of pure gold.
Serious offenses include objects or acts related to liquor, gambling, adultery, a show of romance in public, sexual harassment, rape, accusing people of adultery and homosexuality.
Morality police conducting street raids is a routine occurrence in Aceh, which was granted the sharia status as part of the 2005 Finnish-brokered peace deal between Aceh secessionists and the Indonesian government. Among their targets are women wearing body-hugging clothes, lovebirds displaying affection, couples living together outside wedlock and women walking alone at night.
In urban centers, the authorities have drawn up their own derivative regulations banning women from venturing out at night without the companion of their husbands or male relatives.
In Lhokseumawe, women who straddle motorbikes behind drivers will land in legal trouble after the city government issued a morality bylaw in 2013. In major cities like Banda Aceh, New Year celebrations are banned on the grounds the festivity is not an Islamic tradition.
Particularly troubling is that the Islamic laws also apply to non-Muslims, no matter if they are only unsuspecting visitors. However, if the crime a guest commits is covered by the national laws, they will be dealt with under the conventional criminal code.
Azriana, a right activist, says the "night curfew" bylaw that the authorities insist are needed to protect females' dignity are especially discriminative against women.
"Not only does the bylaw curtail women's liberty but it even gives impunity to those committing crime against women because they [perpetrators] can roam freely," she says in an interview with The Jakarta Post.
"If they [authorities] mean to genuinely protect women, they should give us greater freedom not restrictions. The women's 'night curfew' bylaw has adverse impact on the economy as many women also have to work night shifts."
Despite the morality bylaws, which in fact started as early as 2003 with the introduction of khalwat that criminalizes non-marital romantic relations between men and women, sexual crimes remain a problem in Aceh, Azriana says.
She points at a 2014 rape case in Langsa, East Aceh, in which a 25 year-old woman who became a gang rape victim ended up in being caned after the local sharia court found her guilty of being with a man who was not her husband when a mob was breaking into her house. Her alleged rapists are still on trial.
The indiscriminate enforcement of Islamic bylaws has also created a negative image for Aceh, which proudly calls itself "the porch of Mecca".
Vitta Dewi from Medan, North Sumatra, was among the women apprehended last year by sharia police while she was on a holiday to Sabang – Aceh's western-most resort island – for not wearing a hijab. "I used to hope that Aceh would be more open to the outside world after the  peace deal. I was wrong. The bylaws have made Aceh increasingly reclusive," she says.
Some travel operators also fret about the strict morality bylaws. They have a hard time selling tour packages to not only foreign tourists but also to potential holidaymakers from other provinces.
Maryoto, a tour operator, hopes the provincial administration would make a policy that can attract foreign visitors, such as earmarking certain beaches for foreign tourists only. "Our main tourist attractions are beaches and it's rather difficult to make it obligatory for tourists to swim fully clothed," says Maryoto.