The dead girl, identified as 16-year-old PE, was at a concert in Langsa, Aceh, on Sept. 3 when sharia police apprehended her during a raid and harangued her in public for allegedly engaging in prostitution.
PE’s story was picked up the next day by local media outlets, some of whom identified the girl by her full name and repeated the allegations of the sharia police.
The body of PE was discovered in her room on Sept. 6. She apparently committed suicide by hanging herself.
“This incident has created a good opportunity for the leaders of Aceh and the rest of Indonesia to rethink the use of moralistic laws,” Komnas Perempuan commissioner Andy Yentriyani said on Thursday.
Sharia, which was introduced in Aceh in 2002, imposes strict limits on what people are allowed to do in public.
One statute, for example, prohibits khalwat, or public displays of affection between unmarried men and women. Other laws forbid maisir (gambling) and khamar (the consumption of alcoholic beverages).
People allegedly violating Aceh’s sharia laws are tried at sharia courts, which are authorized to impose judgments and administer sentences, which are typically executed after Friday prayers outside of mosques.
Most of the punishments levied by the sharia courts involve public whippings.
According to Feri Kusuma, who heads a watchdog desk at the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), the application of sharia in Aceh was prone to abuse.
Feri said, sharia in Aceh has never applied equally to all residents and that Aceh Police officers and Indonesian Military troops often tagged along with sharia police on raids to ensure that their peers were not arrested.
“As a result, not a single police officer or TNI member has ever been whipped,” Feri said.
Aceh’s sharia police also allegedly enforced laws arbitrarily, Feri said. For instance, hundreds of women were censured by sharia police in 2010 for wearing tight pants or jeans in Banda Aceh.
The sharia police told the women to be “ashamed”, ordering them to change into more modest clothing, Feri said.
Andy took exception to such intervention. “Clothes are part of a person’s right to expression. It’s dangerous when a government declares that a dress code reflects a person’s character.”
The sharia police have also allegedly abused their authority, as in January 2010, when sharia police detained and raped a 20-year-old college student in East Aceh who was on her way to pick up her younger sister from school.
In another example, sharia police detained 60 people after a punk rock concert on Dec. 10, shaving the Mohawks of the men arrested, claiming that their hairstyle insulted Islamic tradition.
The women who were arrested were given bob haircuts by the sharia police.
The punks were then required to bathe in a nearby lake and perform communal prayers.
All of these incidents should serve as a wake-up call for the government to reform sharia in Aceh, Feri said.
“The laws in Aceh should be revised so that they don’t end up violating human rights, which is very often what they do,” Feri said.