Aceh, the only region in Indonesia granted special autonomy to enact explicitly sharia-based laws, has been in the news a lot of late due to their persecution of the LGBT community (including the recent vile shaming of a group of transgender women by the police) and other increasingly repressive edicts, such as Aceh Besar Regent Mawardy Ali’s demand that Muslim female flight attendants flying into his region wear hijab (headscarves) or face the religious police.
At the same time, Aceh is still trying to attract international tourism through events such as the Aceh International Marathon, which is set to take place on July 29. They had planned on attracting around 4,000 participants to the 42 kilometer race, but, after one week, only about 200 runners have signed up.
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Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf acknowledged that the recent controversy over LGBT rights had caused a “little trouble” in terms of attracting marathon participants. He said another issue was confusion over the dress code for runners.
“It’s because of misunderstandings about the clothing, it’s [taking place in] Sabang, we do not require all female runners to wear hijab or male runners to wear turbans,” Irwandi said as quoted by Kompas, noting that Regenet Mawardy’s headscarves-for-flight-attendants demand had caused the problem.
Sabang, the northernmost and westernmost city in Indonesia, consists of a city on Weh Island and several smaller islands. As much of its economy is based on tourism, it is somewhat more relaxed towards enforcing Aceh’s sharia laws, especially on foreigners. Irwandi said there was no special dress code for marathon participants and that in Sabang you could even see people wearing bikinis.
But regardless of what tourists can or can’t get away with in Sabang, officials in Aceh must accept that if they are going to continue to push repressive laws and oppression towards minority groups, then they will have to suffer not only sharp criticism from rights activists but also the very real economic effects that will have on their tourism industry as well as international investments in the region. Intolerance is not an attractive look on anybody.