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Authorities in the Indonesian region of Aceh must immediately repeal a controversial new bylaw which imposes harsh flogging sentences for consensual sex in some instances and could make it easier for rapists to escape justice, said Amnesty International today.

Aceh’s new Islamic Criminal Code (Qanun Jinayat) came into effect today, imposing caning sentences for consensual sexual relationships outside marriage and same-sex relations, punishable by up to 30 lashes and up to 100 lashes, respectively. It also introduces unacceptable hurdles for those reporting rape along with punishments for anyone deemed to have made false allegations.

“To punish anyone who has had consensual sex with up to 100 lashes is despicable,” said Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s South East Asia Campaigns Director.

“The use of caning as a punishment constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and may amount to torture. Injuries sustained from such monstrous physical abuse may well lead to permanent physical injuries, to say nothing of the psychological consequences of being systematically beaten. This is a flagrant violation of human rights and must be repealed immediately.”

Despite being billed as an Islamic Code, the new Aceh bylaw applies to Muslims and non-Muslims alike for offences which are not considered crimes under the current Indonesia criminal code (KUHP).

The new code not only expands the range of offences for which caning can be imposed, but also includes new requirements for women reporting rape.

Rape victims must produce evidence of having been raped when filing a complaint. If the authorities deem the evidence is insufficient, the alleged perpetrator can evade punishment merely by taking an oath to assert their innocence. Women will also be less likely to report rapes, as the new bylaw introduces punishments, including flogging, a fine and the possibility of up to 30 months in prison for making “false” accusations.

“This creates unacceptable hurdles for investigating and prosecuting rape and other sexual violence, hindering victims from accessing justice and potentially deterring them from reporting rapes in the first place. This will only further endanger those at threat of sexual violence,” said Josef Benedict.

Equally worrying is the fact that new code may also have serious implications for children as it introduces the offence of “adultery with a child”, potentially treating sexual violence against children as sex outside marriage or “adultery”. This flies in the face of Indonesia’s obligation to provide special protection for children from sexual coercion and violence.

“Indonesia’s human rights obligations apply to laws and practices at whatever level – national, regional or local – and the central government must ensure that human rights are respected everywhere in the country. The decentralization process and regional autonomy must not come at the expense of human rights,” said Josef Benedict.  

Background

Although corporal punishment is illegal in the rest of Indonesia, the Acehnese provincial government has imposed caning as a form of punishment for various offences since 2002, under its special autonomy status.

In 2008 the UN Committee against Torture called on Indonesia to review all national and local legislation that allows the use of corporal punishment with a view to abolishing it.

In 2013 the UN Human Rights Committee, which monitors states’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), asked Indonesia to take practical steps to put an end to corporal punishment and to repeal the provisions of the Acehnese law permitting its use in the penal system.

Laws concerning “adultery” have a disproportionate impact on women in a society where discriminatory attitudes attempt to control their sexuality. Social expectations regarding what constitutes “appropriate” behaviour for women mean they are more likely to face arrest and prosecution for such “crimes”. Women from poorer backgrounds, who often face arbitrary detention, will be more severely affected as they won’t be able to afford legal representation.