Gay couples face caning as new law takes effect in Indonesia’s Aceh

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People engaging in homosexual acts face 100 lashes of the cane in Indonesia’s Aceh province as a new sharia criminal code came into force Friday, an official said.

The law, known as Qanun Jinayat, was passed by the local parliament last year, but its implementation was deferred for a year to allow the public to become familiar with its provisions.

“Starting today, those engaging in illicit sexual activities will be subjected to caning, after a fair trial, of course,” Syamsuddin, the head of enforcement at the provincial sharia police, told dpa.

He said patrols would start on Sunday.

Under the law, sex outside marriage and same-sex sexual acts are punishable by 100 lashes of the cane, or 100 months in prison.

The law already banned gambling, alcohol and being alone with someone of the opposite sex while unmarried, with caning as the punishment, but did not specifically regulate sexual acts.

Syamsuddin, who goes by one name, said his office also would act on reports by members of the public.

A case cannot go to court unless there is solid evidence, including three witnesses who saw the act themselves, he said.

“They can photograph the offenders and ask them to put on their clothes,” he said.

“We can’t just punish people arbitrarily,” he said.

Rights activists say the new laws could be used to justify vigilante acts against sexual minorities.

Being a homosexual or transgender is not a crime under the law because only sexual acts can be prosecuted.

The once-rebellious Aceh has long been known as a staunchly Muslim region and is nicknamed “The Veranda of Mecca.”

The central government granted Aceh special autonomy in 2002 to mollify desires for independence, allowing the province to impose its version of sharia laws.

Jakarta and separatist rebels signed a peace pact in 2005, ending decades of conflict that killed 15,000 people, mostly civilians. The deal was spurred by the Indian Ocean tsunami a year earlier that killed more than 170,000 people in Aceh.

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