Some Aceh clerics slam locals who ‘bathed’ alleged Sharia violators in sewer water

Some residents in the westernmost Indonesian province collared an unmarried couple suspected of being alone together and having sexual relations.
Nurdin Hasan
Banda Aceh, Indonesia
Some Aceh clerics slam locals who ‘bathed’ alleged Sharia violators in sewer water A Sharia (Islamic law) police officer canes a woman as punishment after she was found guilty of violating an Islamic law in Aceh province, Indonesia, April 20, 2018.
Nurdin Hasan/BenarNews

In yet another incident of vigilante justice in Indonesia’s religiously conservative Aceh province, some residents of Lhokseumawe city threw sewer water on an unmarried couple who allegedly violated Islamic law by having sexual relations, officials confirmed Wednesday.

This time, the province’s fatwa-issuing body, the Majlis Permusyawaratan Ulama, denounced the actions of the residents of Banda Sakti sub-district, saying they had degraded the non-Muslim duo’s self-respect in an unjustifiable way. 

Academics, too, condemned the incident. Far from upholding the law, this vigilante act had violated it, they said. 

In the incident that took place on Monday, Banda Sakti locals collared a couple from a residence in the early hours of Monday and dumped bucketloads of sewer water on the woman – the man poured the filthy water on himself – before handing the duo over to law enforcement, police officials said.   

In Aceh, the only Indonesian province where Islamic law, or Sharia, is in effect, men and women not related or married to one another are forbidden from being alone together. And non-Muslims suspected of violating this rule can be arrested, according to Sharia bylaws widened in 2015. 

Teungku Faisal Ali, the chairman of Aceh’s MPU, urged customary and religious leaders across Aceh to advise the public that if they encounter suspected violators of Sharia, they should hand them over to religious police force – called Wilayatul Hisbah (WH) – tasked with enforcing Islamic law.
“There is an MPU fatwa that prohibits taking the law into one’s own hands against those who violate Islamic law,” Faisal told BenarNews.

“The enforcement of Islamic law must not degrade human dignity. Bathing someone in sewage water is clearly against Sharia because it degrades a person’s dignity as a human being.”

In a screenshot from footage marked with the logo of the religious police, a resident of Banda Sakti sub-district in Ace province’s Lhokseumawe city is seen pouring sewer water on a woman after locals took her and a man captive for their alleged violation of Islamic law, Indonesia, April 17, 2024. [Screenshot from Aceh province local religious police Instagram video]

A widely circulated video of the incident, which was also posted on the Instagram account of the local religious police, shows a resident dumping buckets of what police later said was sewer water on the woman, who the locals had forcibly taken captive. 

Local media reported that the woman is a 40-year-old widow and the man is a 25-year-old fisherman.

“Bathing” suspected Sharia violators with sewer water is customary in the area, Heri Maulana, the head of the religious police in Lhokseumawe City, told BenarNews.

In Lhokseumawe, this is common practice, sometimes [the action taken by residents is] even more severe,” he said.

By the time officers from the religious police arrived on the scene, the so-called bathing had already begun, Heri said.

“When WH officers arrived for inspection, the couple suspected of immoral behavior were [already] being subjected to the sewage water dousing. Subsequently, they were handed over to authorities for further investigation,” he said.

Heri said that if the man and woman were found guilty of being together alone by a Sharia court, they could face a maximum of 10 lashes, a fine of up to 100 grams of gold, or imprisonment for a maximum of 10 months. 

The Sharia police Wilayatul Hisbah has been enforcing Islamic law in Aceh since 2000.The province, which lies at the northwestern end of Sumatra island gained special autonomy in 2005 after a peace agreement ended the war with a separatist group. 

Not only is it the only Indonesian province where Sharia is in effect, it is also the only province that has its own local political parties, due to an autonomy scheme granted in 2002 to pacify the clamor for independence.

Government must not tolerate vigilantism’

Condemning the act, Ahmad Humam Hamid, a sociologist from Syiah Kuala University in Banda Aceh, said throwing sewer water on someone was uncivilized.

“That is barbaric. Local authorities and religious leaders, including ulama, have failed to educate the public on respecting the law. It’s like living with the law of the jungle,” Ahmad told BenarNews on Wednesday. Ulama refers to a body of religious scholars.

According to Ahmad, these actions do not represent Islamic values and ultimately violate the law, although their perpetrators claim they uphold Islamic law.

“This is indicative of a sick society, not one that follows Islamic principles. It’s a big shame. Is this what an Islamic society looks like? Even if someone makes a mistake, there are norms on how to punish them,” he told BenarNews.

He said the incident reflected a broader problem with formal authorities such as the government, Sharia police, and traditional religious figures, who he said seem unaware of, or indifferent to public issues.

“Society mirrors larger issues. It shows that we have failed to educate the public. People’s actions reflect the failure of moral and official authority,” he said.

Such incidents also set a troubling precedent for public perception of Islamic law enforcement, said Azharul Husna, the Coordinator of the Aceh Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS).

“The government must not tolerate vigilantism,” she told BenarNews.

“And if they claim it’s ‘local customs,’ it’s the government’s responsibility to educate the public about customs that align with Sharia or go against it.”


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.