Two Christian men in Indonesia were flogged on Monday for drinking alcohol and gambling, which are crimes in the conservative Muslim Aceh province.
Agence France Press reports that each of the two men received 40 lashes from a masked Sharia officer who beat their backs with a cane.
Five others were flogged Monday in addition to the Christian men. The five others, all Muslims, were punished for the crimes of adultery and alcohol consumption.
One of the Christian men, who identified only as JF, told the news agency that he chose to be flogged to avoid a criminal prosecution in which he could have been jailed for up to six months.
“The Sharia police gave us options, and we consciously decided to comply with the Islamic criminal code,” the accused was quoted as saying. “No one forced me to choose it.”
According to the International Crisis Group, Aceh is the only province in Indonesia with the “legal right to apply Islamic law in full.” It has slowly put Sharia frameworks in place since 1999.
Although Sharia law is only supposed to apply to Muslim adherents, non-Muslims can choose whether they are punished under the criminal code or Islamic system.
Although flogging of non-Muslims is not common in Aceh, the two men are not the first non-Muslims to be canned in the province.
In 2018, a Christian couple was publicly flogged after being accused of using a children’s game for gambling. According to The Jakarta Post, the couple chose to receive eight and seven lashes rather than spend months in prison.
Last month, a gay couple was flogged nearly 80 times because they were caught engaging in sexual acts. Since Aceh is under ultra-conservative rule, homosexuality is banned in the province.
“Islamic [S]haria enforcement is final, no matter who it is, and even visitors must respect local norms,” public order official Heru Triwijanarko told AFP at the time.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, ranks as the 47th worst country for Christian persecution on Open Doors USA’s 2021 World Watch List.
The human rights group reports that the situation for Christians in the Southeast Asian country has deteriorated in recent years because the Indonesian society has taken on “a more conservative Islamic character.” However, the level of persecution Christians face in Indonesia depends on the regions in which they live.
“In certain hot spots, like West Java or Aceh, extremist Islamic groups are strong and heavily influence society and politics,” an Open Doors factsheet explains. “If they catch Christians evangelizing, believers could run into problems. Also, non-traditional church groups tend to experience difficulties getting permission for building churches. Even if they manage to fulfill all legal requirements (including winning court cases), the local authorities still often ignore them.”
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has advised the U.S. State Department to list Indonesia on its “special watch list” of countries that engage in or tolerate severe religious freedom violations.
In its 2020 annual report, USCIRF notes that Indonesia's religious freedom conditions are trending negatively since many religious minorities are prosecuted under blasphemy laws, and intolerant hardline groups continue to threaten religious minority houses of worship.
“Reports from local nongovernmental organizations indicated that the provinces of West Java, Jakarta, and East Java had the highest number of incidents of religious intolerance — including discrimination, hate speech, acts of violence, and rejections of permits to build houses of worship for minority religious communities,” the annual report states.