INDONESIA. ACEH HAS FIRST CANINGS UNDER MUSLIM LAW
June 24, 2005: Indonesia carried out its first public canings, punishing 15 gamblers in front of a noisy crowd in tsunami-hit Aceh, the only province in the world's most populous Muslim nation to implement Islamic law.
All 15 men, including one in his 60s, were sentenced months ago for gambling, some with sums less than $1, by a sharia court in the town of Bireuen.
Aceh courts were granted freedom to use sharia law in 2003 as part of an autonomy package the central government offered in an effort to quell separatism in the province, where thousands have died in a long-running insurgency.
Caning is a common judicial practice in neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore, but is not carried out in public.
The canings, the subject of considerable debate in Indonesia, began after Friday midday prayers on a raised platform in front of the town's elaborate grand mosque with its large black domes.
"The canings can be a cure for gamblers. The defendants and their family should not be ashamed because they are helping us to ... give lessons to the public," the chief of Aceh's sharia court, Alyasa Abubakar, told the crowd of around 2,000 people.
Each of the condemned was clad in a white tunic and received between six and eight strokes across the back. The caning was delivered by a man in a light green robe with only his eyes visible.
At times, the crowd cheered and howled when the one-metre rattan stick struck, the strokes carefully measured not to break the skin.
Several Indonesian television and radio stations aired the punishment live. Not all were in favour of canings. Jakarta-based rights groups in Indonesia criticised them as cruel. Callers to a Jakarta radio station also condemned the spectacle.
Located on the northern tip of Sumatra island, Aceh is known in Indonesia as the "Verandah of Mecca" because it is where Islam first took hold in the vast archipelago centuries ago.
(Sources: Reuters: 24/06/2005)