Without much fanfare, the Aceh provincial administration and legislative council have approved the Qanun Jinayat (behaviour-governing bylaw) that obliges every Muslim and non-Muslim in Aceh to follow sharia, the Islamic legal code.
"The qanun does indeed oblige everyone in Aceh to follow sharia without exception," councilor Abdulah Saleh, who was involved in the deliberation of the qanun in the council, confirmed on Thursday.
The Qanun Jinayat was approved by the legislative council on December 13 and signed by Governor Zaini Abdullah. It was a revision of the controversial 2009 Qanun Jinayat that introduced the punishment of stoning to death.
Following outcry from human rights activists, the provincial administration under then governor Irwandi Yusuf refused to sign or implement the bylaw and it was deliberated again under the new administration.
Saleh said that the newly approved qanun stipulated that all violators of sharia would be tried under Islamic law regardless of their religion. Non-Muslim violators of the Criminal Code (KUHP) would be given the option to choose between a sharia court or a regular court, he explained.
"But, if the violation committed by a non-Muslim is not regulated in the KUHP then the violator will automatically be tried in a sharia court, without exception," Saleh said.
Violations of sharia that are not mentioned in the KUHP include drinking liquor, khalwat (affectionate contact between an unmarried couple), and not wearing headscarf or wearing tight pants by women.
Anyone found drinking alcohol or breaching the codes on moral behaviour, whether residents or visitors to Aceh, could face between six and nine lashes of the cane.
On Wednesday, the Aceh sharia police stopped motorists but let non-Muslim women go after advising them to wear a headscarf. Three violations of the dress code could lead to nine lashes.
The qanun also applies to military personnel as long as the military court does not regulate sharia violations.
Saleh argued that the passing of the qanun was based on the principle of justice for all as Muslims would feel they were being treated unfairly if non-Muslim violators were not tried under the same law for the same violations.
"It would be unfair if Muslims were punished while non-Muslims were not, just because sharia violations are not stipulated in the Criminal Code," Saleh said.
Meanwhile, a Banda Aceh resident opposed the qanun. "I'm of Chinese descent and not a Muslim, why should I obey Islamic teachings? As far as I know the headscarf is for Muslim women," said the man, a Buddhist, who declined to be identified.
Legal observer and social scientist at Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh, Saifuddin Bantasyam, said that although he had not yet read the Qanun Jinayat in detail, he thought that it would be awkward if Islamic law was applied to non-Muslims regardless of whether the violation was categorized as a sharia violation.
"If that was the case then we have to see first whether the qanun is implemented using the principle of individuality or the principle of territoriality," Saifuddin said.
If based on the principle of individuality, he said, then Islamic law applied only to Muslims. If based on the principle of territoriality, then whoever was in Aceh would have to follow Islamic law just as it is implemented in Arab and sharia-based Islamic countries.
With regard to the right to choose between an Islamic court and a criminal court for non-Muslims, according to Saifuddin, non-Muslims would consider that unfair.
Home Ministry spokesman Didik Suprayitno said his office had yet to receive information regarding Aceh's bylaw.
However, he added, "basically all local regulations must be in line with national laws". Moreover, he said, all local regulations would be reviewed first by his office.
Key articles in the Qanun Jinayat
1. The sharia authorities will have the power to arrest suspected violators, and confiscate and conduct raids on their property, based on preliminary evidence.
2. The authorities will have the power to detain a violator for up to 30 days prior to trial. This detention can be extended by another 30 days. 3. A suspect has the right to be defended by a lawyer.
4. Non-Muslim or military suspects will be tried in a sharia court unless the violation is covered by the Criminal Code (KUHP) or by the Military Code respectively.
5. Even if the sharia court acquits a defendant, he or she will be required to undergo rehabilitation.
6. Only one appeal may be filed with the sharia court.
7. Prison terms are for up to a maximum of 40 months.
8. Caning up to a maximum to 40 lashes.
9. Fines up to a maximum of 800 grams of gold.