Devout province votes to stone adulterers to death

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The Independent Online

Politicians in a devoutly Muslim Indonesian province voted unanimously that adulterers can be sentenced to death by stoning, just months after voters overwhelmingly chose to throw conservative Islamic parties out of power.

With only weeks to go before a new government led by a moderate party takes over in Aceh province, hard-liners still in control of the regional parliament yesterday pushed through legislation to impose steep punishments for adultery and homosexuality.

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, which will lead the incoming government, voiced reservations, but none of them voted against the bill.

Human rights groups said the law violates international treaties signed by Indonesia. The province's deputy governor also opposed the legislation, saying it needed more careful consideration because it imposes a new form of capital punishment.

The Aceh Party is also believed to have a less strict interpretation of Islamic law, and some activists expressed hope that once in power, they would amend or tone down the law. Others were considering contesting the bill in court in the capital, Jakarta.

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. But its use is a point of contention among Islamic scholars.

The new Indonesian law also imposes tough sentences and fines, to be paid in kilograms of gold, for rape and paedophilia, but the most hotly disputed article was on adultery and states that offenders can be punished by a minimum of 100 lashings and a maximum of stoning to death.

It also imposes severe prison terms for other behaviour considered morally unacceptable, including homosexuality, which will be punishable by public lashings and more than eight years in prison.

The bill violates national and international treaties signed by Indonesia protecting the rights of minorities and women, said a gay rights activist in Aceh who requested anonymity because he feared for his safety.

"It's discriminatory, and it's saddening, but we are quite sure members of civil society who are concerned with human rights will not sit by silently," the activist said, adding that he hopes the new moderate leadership in the province will overturn the law after taking power next month.