Shariah Court in Indonesia Sentences Gay Couple to Caning

Reuters/Danish SiddiquiA gay rights activist folds a banner at a protest organised against the Supreme Court's order on gay sex in Mumbai December 11, 2013.

An Indonesian Islamic court has sentenced two gay men to public caning for having sexual relations. Wednesday's hearing sentenced both defendants to 85 strokes of the cane which is the first in the conservative province of Aceh. The sentencing was timed with the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

The two men, aged 20 and 23, were captured on March after neighborhood vigilantes in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, barged into their rented room and caught them in a state of undress. A cellphone video that was uploaded online and used as evidence showed the two being prevented from leaving.

Lead judge Khairil Jamal said the men, who waived their right to a defense attorney, were "legally and convincingly proven to have committed gay sex." The punishment will be carried out next week before the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, which starts on May 25.

The three-judge panel decided against imposing the maximum sentence of 100 lashes because the men were polite in court, cooperated with authorities and had no prior convictions. "As Muslims, the defendants should uphold the Shariah law that prevails in Aceh," Jamal said.

Aceh is the only province in Muslim-majority Indonesia allowed to practice Shariah law which was a concession granted by the government in 2006 to end the insurgency problem. The province expanded the Islamic bylaws and criminal code in 2015 that covered even non-Muslims under the Shariah law.

Offenders of morality that include gay sex and sexual relations between unmarried people face up to 100 lashes. Other offenses where caning is also imposed are gambling, drinking alcohol, wear tight clothes for women and skipping Friday prayers for men. Over 300 people were caned for such offenses last year.

International human rights watchdog Amnesty International had long called for the immediate ban on caning as a form of punishment. Homosexuality is not illegal in other areas in Indonesia, but a court petition seeks to criminalize sexual relations between gay men and unmarried couples.