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Two Indonesian Christians publicly whipped under Shariah law punishment

An Indonesian man is being publicly beaten as punishment under strict Shariah law in Aceh. Some people choose a public beating to avoid long prison terms. (Chaideer Mahyuddin/Getty Images)

Two Christians were publicly whipped under Shariah law for gambling in Indonesia as the nation moves toward “a politicized brand” of Islam, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Hundreds of onlookers jeered at the two, as a “robed man wearing a mask and wielding a rattan cane” hit them at least six times each, according to the report.

The punishment was carried out Tuesday on a stage near a mosque in Banda Aceh, the largest city and capital of the province of Aceh.

Why were they punished?

The man and woman were punished for playing a game at a children’s entertainment complex that was similar to gambling, the head of Banda Aceh’s Shariah police force, which enforces Islamic laws, told the Journal. Specifics about the game were not immediately known. Gambling is illegal in the country.

It was a “rare case” of non-Muslims being punished under Shariah law, according to the Journal. Nearly 90 percent of Indonesia is Muslim, although laws are in place to protect those practicing Christianity and other religions. Tuesday’s public beating was not the first, however. In January, a Christian was sentenced to 36 lashes for selling alcohol, according to the report.

Aceh is the only province in Indonesia governed by Shariah law, the Journal reported. The minority, who aren’t Muslims,  can either be punished under Shariah law or the civil code. Some people choose a public beating to avoid long prison terms.

Indonesia has long been regarded as having more moderate form of Islam. But hard-line Islamic groups are “using the country’s democratic system to promote an Islamic agenda,” the Journal stated. Islamic groups are building support for their agenda by public preaching and charity work.

The Journal reported that the province's Shariah courts are imposing "hundreds of whippings a year" as punishment. Some offenses that can lead to a public flogging are "drinking alcohol, gay sex, gambling, or having romantic relationships before marriage."

Human rights groups quickly admonished Tuesday's punishments. A Muslim man gambling at the complex was hit at least 19 times as punishment.

“Corporal punishment is torture under the United Nations Convention against Torture, which Indonesia has ratified,” Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch told the Journal.

What else are Islamic groups doing?

Last year, the Islamic groups led a campaign to imprison the Christian governor of Jakarta for blasphemy. Now they are pushing lawmakers to revise the criminal code, which would allow the imprisonment of gay people or unmarried people who are living together.

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