BANDA ACEH, Indonesia - Just weeks before conservative Islamic parties have to give up power, lawmakers in this devoutly Muslim Indonesian province voted unanimously yesterday that adulterers could be sentenced to death by stoning.
Only months ago, voters overwhelmingly chose the moderate Aceh Party to rule the country, but the regional parliament, still controlled by hard-liners, yesterday pushed through 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 voiced reservations, but none of them voted against the bill.
Human rights groups said the law violates international treaties signed by Indonesia. The Aceh 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 believed to have a less strict interpretation of Islamic law, or Shariah, and some activists expressed hope that once in power, the moderates would amend or tone down the law. Others were considering contesting the bill in court in the capital, Jakarta.
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 after the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 130,000 there.
A version of Shariah that was introduced in Aceh in 2001 already bans gambling and drinking alcohol, and requires 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 million Muslims practice a moderate form of the faith, and surveys suggest they do not support such hard-line interpretations of the Koran, the Muslim holy book.
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 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 behavior considered morally unacceptable, including homosexuality, which will be punishable by public lashings and more than eight years in prison.