Two men in Indonesia were today caned as a punishment for gay sex.
The pair, whose identities were not revealed, each received 83 strokes from the cane. Both men had their sentences reduced by two strokes due to time served.
The men, who are aged 20 and 23, were found guilty of the breaking sharia rules of the conservative Aceh province — the only part of Indonesia that practices the Islamic law. This is the first time that the region has carried out this punishment for gay sex.
Gay sex is not illegal elsewhere in Indonesia — which has the world’s biggest Muslim population.
Zubaidah, a 20-year-old female college student who watched the couple being punished, told AFP it was the first time she had witnessed a caning. “I wanted to watch it so it could serve as a lesson for me not to commit any act that violates Islamic teaching,” said the student, who like many Indonesians goes by one name. “Homosexuality is a curable disease, it is very forbidden in Islam.”
There has been a growing hostility towards Indonesia’s small LGBT community over the past year, with ministers, hardliners and influential Islamic groups lining up to publicly denounce homosexuality.
Prior to the caning, Abdul Gani Isa — a member of the Acehnese clerics’ council — told the crowd the caning was “a lesson” for the public. “Lessons carried out with our sharia law are conducted in a very thoughtful way, are educational and do not violate human rights,” he said.
The men were led onto a raised stage outside a mosque in front of a crowd of thousands, who jeered and booed loudly. They were dressed in white robes and bowed their heads as they were whipped by officials wearing brown cloaks and masks with eye slits.
They were caught having sex with each other in March. Vigilantes forced their way into the house that the men were staying to arrest them — this is commonplace and accepted in Aceh. Cellphone footage of the raid, that has made the rounds online, showed the vigilantes kicking, slapping and insulting the men.
Aceh was given the right to implement sharia law in 2001 as part of a deal with the central government, to end an insurgency. Public canings are common for even simple offenses such as gambling and drinking. The punishment is carried out with thin rattan canes, with people still clothed while the strokes are delivered.
Eight other men and women were also caned on the same day.
Amnesty International was among groups that had urged authorities not to flog the men, decrying the use of caning as a “cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment”.
The caning comes two days after Jakarta police detained 141 men, including several foreigners, for allegedly taking part in a gay sex party in a sauna.