Moral vigilantes in Aceh raid salon, turn man and transwoman inside over to religious police

An Acehnese man convicted of ‘immoral acts’ prepares for his public caning in Banda Aceh on June 12, 2015. Photo: AFP/Chaideer Mayhuddin
An Acehnese man convicted of ‘immoral acts’ prepares for his public caning in Banda Aceh on June 12, 2015. Photo: AFP/Chaideer Mayhuddin

Vigilantism in the name of ultra-conservative morality continues unabated in Aceh, the only province of Indonesia given special autonomy to enact sharia-based laws. The latest incident involves a man and a transwoman who were rounded up by self-appointed moral police after being accused of prostitution.

On Monday evening, a man, identified by his initial M, allegedly visited a transwoman, identified by her initial N, at a salon where she worked in the Acehnese capital of Banda Aceh. Locals then raided the salon, accusing M of having already paid N IDR100,000 (US$7.28) for sexual services, before taking them to the Wilayatul Hisbah sharia police.

“They were handed to the police at first and then they were taken to us. They were raided on Monday at around 9pm,” said Evendi A. Latif, head of the Islamic Sharia Enforcement Department at Wilayatul Hisbah, as quoted by Detik today.

As has become the norm in the province, the vigilantes who violated M and N’s rights to privacy were not implicated in any criminal wrongdoing. Instead, both M and N may face severe physical punishment at the hands of the local authorities if they are proven to have violated the province’s religious laws.

“If by qanun (religious law) they are proven guilty then they will be punished, in accordance to Article 26 Verse 1 regarding khalwat (an unwed couple spending time alone together), with 100 lashes,” Evendi said.

As the only province in Indonesia that is allowed to enact explicitly sharia-based laws, Aceh criminalizes everything from selling alcohol to homosexuality to adultery and even the simple act of two unmarried people of the opposite sex being too close to each other. The local government and religious police encourage citizens to snoop on each other to report these crimes, leading to frequent acts of moral vigilantism.

The transgender community in the province have also been facing increased scrutiny lately. In late January, religious police detained and shamed 12 transgender women by cutting their hair and forcing them to wear men’s clothes.

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