BANDA ACEH, Indonesia – Adulterers can be stoned to death and homosexuality is punishable by steep prison terms under a new law passed unanimously by lawmakers in Indonesia's devoutly Muslim Aceh province Monday.
Aceh's regional parliament adopted the bill despite strong objections from human rights groups and the province's deputy governor, who said the legislation needed more careful consideration because it imposes a new form of capital punishment.
The chairman of the 69-seat house asked if the bill could be passed into law and members answered in unison: "Yes, it can." Some members of the moderate Democrat Party had voiced reservations, but none of them voted against the bill.
The law, which reinforces the province's already strict Islamic laws, is to go into effect within 30 days. Its passage comes two weeks before a new assembly led by the moderate Aceh Party will be sworn in following a heavy defeat of conservative Muslim parties in local elections.
Aceh, where Islam first arrived in Indonesia from Saudi Arabia centuries ago, enjoys semiautonomy from the central government. A long-running Islamic insurgency in the province ended in 2005 in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 130,000 there.
A version of Islamic law, or Shariah, that had been introduced in Aceh in 2001 already bans gambling and drinking alcohol, and makes it compulsory for women to wear headscarves. Dozens of public canings have been carried out by the local Shariah police against violators of that law.
The majority of Indonesia's roughly 200 Muslims practice a moderate form of the faith and surveys suggest they do not support such hardline interpretations of the Quran, the Muslim holy book.
Several countries have laws on stoning, but the punishment remains a point of disagreement between Islamic scholars. Out of fifty-two Muslim-majority countries worldwide, stoning is legally sanctioned in varying forms in Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and parts of Nigeria.
Illegal stonings have also been reported in recent years in Iraq and Somalia.
The most notable example in modern Islam was that of Amina Lawal, a young woman who was sentenced to death in a Nigerian state in 2002 for having sex outside marriage, but was later released.
The new Indonesian law also imposes tough sentences and fines, to be paid in kilograms of gold, for rape and pedophilia, but the most hotly disputed article was on adultery and states that offending married couples can be punished by a minimum of 100 lashings and a maximum of stoning to death.
"The stoning to death is the toughest punishment included in the (new) Shariah law Bahrom Rasjid, one of the drafters and a member of the United Development Party, said after its passage.
It also imposes severe prison terms for other behavior considered morally unacceptable, including homosexuality, which will be punishable by public lashings and more than eight years in prison.
Aceh Vice Governor Muhamad Nazar said that even though his office opposed the clause on stoning to death it has no legal power to block it. "Whatever law is passed we have to enforce it," he said.