[Updated at 10:40 a.m. on Wednesday, May 7, 2014]
Banda Aceh. A woman in Aceh who was gang raped last week after being accused of having extramarital sex now faces the indignity of a public caning for the offense of having an affair.
“We want the couple to be caned because they violated the religious bylaw on sexual relations,” Ibrahim Latif, the head of the Shariah office in the eastern town of Langsa, said of the woman and her companion, a 40-year-old married man, who were raided by a group of men last Wednesday night at the woman’s home.
The woman was raped by the eight vigilantes, three of whom have since been arrested. Her companion was tied up and beaten. The pair were also doused with sewage by the attackers, who later took them to the Shariah police, or Wilayatul Hisbah.
Ibrahim said the fact that the woman had been raped would not be taken into consideration in determining the punishment for the religious crime that she was accused of committing.
“They have to be [caned] as a form of justice because the rapists will also be processed, but in a criminal court,” he said. “Besides, they’ve confessed to having sex on several previous occasions, even though the man is married and has five children.”
Langsa Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Hariadi and the chief of detectives Adj. Comr. M. Firdaus were not immediately available for comment.
Under the partial Shariah exercised in Aceh, the woman and her companion face up to nine strokes of the cane each. The rapists would have faced the same number of lashes had they been dragged through the Shariah process.
Three of them, including a 13-year-old boy, have been arrested by police, who are still hunting for the five others.
They are accused of gang raping the woman after barging into her house late last Wednesday and accusing her of having illegal sexual relations with the man.
After assaulting the man and raping the woman, they marched the pair to the Shariah police. It was only during their interrogation of the victim that officers found out she had been raped.
An official from Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s largest Islamic organization, has backed the call to cane the couple, but says the rapists must also face Shariah charges in addition to criminal ones.
Teungku Faisal Ali, the head of the NU’s Aceh chapter, told the Jakarta Globe that “the punishment for the mob that raped the victim must be much harsher because they have set back efforts to uphold Shariah in Aceh.”
He also urged residents to leave Shariah enforcement up to the WH and not enforce the regulations themselves.
“If anyone sees any violation of Shariah, they must report it to the Shariah police, in accordance with the prevailing standards and procedures,” Faisal said.
He bemoaned what he called the increasing prevalence of mob violence in Aceh, particularly against those accused of Shariah violations.
This is not the first case in Aceh of a rape being committed against a woman accused of inappropriate conduct with an unrelated male.
A 20-year-old university student was raped by three Shariah police officers in Langsa in January 2010 after being caught riding on a motorcycle with her boyfriend.
The town’s Shariah police chief, Syahril, was subsequently fired and two of the perpetrators were later sentenced to serve eight years in prison each. The third perpetrator has not been caught.
Ismail Hasani, a scholar at Jakarta’s Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, said that the Shariah law system in Aceh had long been a subject of fierce debate.
“When we talk about law in Aceh, we talk about three different systems that are not clearly delineated: common law, Shariah law and national law. There is no boundary,” he said. “Looking at this case, based on common law, the woman, even though she is a victim, still has to accept punishment. But when we take the national law perspective, she primarily is a victim who needs protection.”
Ismail, who is a program manager at the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, said that Aceh’s Shariah law system was dangerous in the sense that it had lead to victim blaming.
He said it was unjust to view the woman only as a suspected adulterer after what she had been through.
“This is also a case of rape. She has rights,” he said. “This is hypocrisy which is fostered continuously by Acehnese elites with a political view of Islam.
“Sure, the law has to be enforced, but a punishment like caning is excessive…. The punishment is imposed based on sexual imagination instead of legal facts,” he said. “Historically, caning in Islam is implemented strictly based on strong evidence. But in Aceh, it is done arbitrarily. The enforcement of the Shariah law is done based on prejudice and even for political reasons.”
Central government’s role
Arimbi Heroepoetri of the National Commission on Violence against Women (Komnas Perempuan) said the difference between rape and adultery should be made clear.
“And law enforcers must understand that the woman, as a gang-rape victim, must be traumatized,” she said. “The rape case must be prioritized. This issue of sexual abuse is urgent. They cannot leave the problem unsolved for too long.”
She said that the survivor needed healing, not punishment.
“She cannot just be caned right after being raped by eight men,” she said.
Ismail said that the unfair implementation of Shariah law could lead to widespread legal discrimination.
“There has to be a clear stance from the central government. We should not see the special autonomy of Aceh [which allows it to implement partial Shariah law] as special autonomy without boundaries,” he said. “Not every citizen in Aceh agrees with the current legal system. Some of them are being repressed by the law. So there has to be a debate among citizens and with the regional government in order to formulate a more humane Islamic law.
“We have to remember that justice is everyone’s right, and it is not happening at the moment in Aceh.”