Indonesia province moves closer to death by stoning law

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia, Sept 14 Mon Sep 14, 2009 5:16pm IST

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia, Sept 14 (Reuters) - Muslims who commit adultery in Indonesia's Aceh province may be stoned to death under a controversial new sharia law passed by the local parliament on Monday.

Aceh is the only province in predominantly Muslim Indonesia to use sharia for its legal code, introduced as part of an autonomy deal in 2002.

The "qanun jinayat", or sharia law for crimes, covers adultery, consumption of alcohol, rape and homosexuality, according to the draft seen by Reuters. Adultery is punishable by stoning to death, while other punishments include caning, gold fines and imprisonment.

The new law could come into force as soon as next month.

The provincial government initially proposed the law but now says it rejects some of the clauses added by parliament and wants to make some further revisions.

A new parliament will be sworn in next month which may be more willing to tone down the law, some experts said.

"I disagree with the qanun, because it sounds inhumane, and it's not (parliament's) business to decide such things, especially for adultery," said Dian Sukma, a 21-year-old student. "I believe many people reject this, if they want a proof, let's do a poll."

Opponents and supporters of the new law demonstrated outside the parliament on Monday.

"I think this qanun needs to be carefully reviewed and perfected again. Also does this mean that we probably can't commit immoralities in Aceh, and we can do it once we are out of Aceh?" said Muhammad Nazar, Aceh deputy governor.

Aceh, on the far western tip of the Indonesian archipelago, is sometimes referred to as the "verandah of Mecca" because the staunchly Muslim province was one of the first parts of the archipelago to turn to Islam.

Thousands died in a decades-long conflict between separatists and the military. A further 160,000 died in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which paved the way for a peace agreement between the two sides and brought billions of dollars of foreign aid.

But foreign aid-workers also brought Western influence to the devout province.

"We feel that it is time now for people to understand the real meaning of sharia," said Bustanul Arifin, secretary of Aceh parliament's special committee for drafting the law, and a member of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).

"As we can see, foreign cultures have entered Aceh," Arifin said, adding that Aceh was heading for moral degradation as a result.

Arifin said he hoped the next parliament would discuss other crimes, including theft and corruption which could be punishable by chopping off a hand.

The harshest punishment in the new law is stoning to death for adultery by a married person, followed by rape, which is punishable by 100-200 strokes of a rattan cane -- in public -- and 100-200 months in jail. (Additional reporting by Olivia Rondonuwu in Jakarta; Editing by Sara Webb)

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