Banda Aceh Deputy Mayor Pushes for Bylaw Criminalizing Same-Sex Relationships

A Shariah policeman on duty near a mosque in Banda Aceh. Indonesia's northernmost province has passed an anti-homosexuality law that punishes anyone caught having gay sex with 100 lashes. (EPA/Holti Simanjuntak)

By : Camelia Pasandaran & Nurdin Hasan | on 6:29 PM May 07, 2013
Category : News, Crime, Featured

A Shariah Police officer passes a mosque during a raid in Banda Aceh, Indonesia on June 7, 2012. (EPA Photo/Hotli Simanjuntak) A Shariah Police officer passes a mosque during a raid in Banda Aceh, Indonesia on June 7, 2012. (EPA Photo/Hotli Simanjuntak)

Banda Aceh. Homosexual men and women living in Indonesia’s strictly conservative Aceh province would be publicly lashed 100 times under a proposed bylaw backed by the provincial capital’s deputy governor.

Banda Aceh Deputy Mayor Illiza Sa’aduddin Djamal called homosexuality “a social disease that should be eradicated,” as she pushed for harsher bylaws against sexual behavior that runs counter to the region’s adherence to Islamic Shariah Law.

The Aceh Legislative Council (DPRA) is discussing proposed changes to the province’s bylaws, including a bylaw criminalizing homosexuality. The proposed bylaw received the support of the deputy mayor, who bemoaned the fact that police were unable to punish same-sex couples under current regulations.

“There is no law that could be used to charge them,” Illiza said. “The existing [regulations] only stipulate about khalwat [being in close proximity] for intimate relations between unmarried males and females.”

Banda Aceh’s Shariah Police have struggled to crack down on same-sex relationships, Illiza said. Couples meet in rented rooms and pursue relationships under a veil of secrecy, she said.

The deputy mayor said she was prompted to action by a 2012 survey on at-risk communities and HIV/AIDS transmission rates in Aceh. Illiza told the Jakarta Globe she didn’t remember the specifics of the survey’s findings, but was concerned that some respondents told surveyors they were gay.

“If we ignore it, it will be like an iceberg,” Illiza said. “Even if one case of homosexuality found, it’s already a problem... we are really concerned about the behavior and activities of the gay community, because their behavior is deviating from the Islamic Shariah.”

A gay rights advocate called the proposed bylaw “a move backward for civilization,” adding that Islam was open to interpretation.

“We’re living in 2013, not in the Middle Ages,” said Hartoyo, secretary-general of Our Voice, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) advocacy group. “It’s sad to have a deputy mayor who could think that way... other countries have started to allow homosexual marriage, why coming up with such idea to punish the LGBT [community]?”

Hartoyo doubted the Shariah Police could find enough evidence to properly convict same-sex couples under the proposed bylaw.

“[Even] the definition of adultery under Islam is hard to prove,” Hartoyo said. “To punish the adulterer there should be four witnesses who saw with their own eyes the penetration. How could we find four witnesses who clearly saw that?”

He accused Illiza of failing to understand the issue and called the bylaw’s punishment — 100 lashes with a rattan cane — antiquated.

“Caning as a sentence is a punishment from the old ages,” Hartoyo said. “People are born as transgenders and homosexuals. What’s the reason to punish them? Punishing them means she could not appreciate God’s creations.”

Illiza told the Jakarta Globe she planned to push ulemas to preach against practices condemned by Allah.

Hartoyo said he plans to send the deputy mayor a letter detailing the flaws in her statements.

“I will probably send her a warning letter [saying] that what she did only publicly showed how stupid she is,” he said. “She’s intellectual and has access to the Internet and other resources. To come up with that way of thinking is embarrassing.”

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