Aceh Shari'a police will not be disbanded despite rape case

(Photo: Tarmizy Harva, Reuters)

A Sharia policeman speaks to two youths about the rules of Sharia law at the seaside area of Uleelheu in Banda Aceh.

January 18, 2009
By Nurdin Hasan

Banda Aceh. Aceh’s deputy governor said on Tuesday that there was no need to disband the province’s Wilayatul Hisbah, or Shariah Police, because there was no legal obligation to do so.

Muhammad Nazar was speaking after three officers from the controversial Shariah Police were arrested for allegedly gang-raping a 20-year-old university student earlier this month. The incident was believed to have occurred after the woman was detained by the suspects for allegedly violating public decency laws.

Dismissing calls for the Shariah Police to be disbanded over the case, Nazar said the alleged rape was not the fault of the organization.

“Just because some individuals do something wrong does not mean the institution should be disbanded,” he said. “Those who did wrong simply need to face harsh punishments.”

But Evi Narti Zein, a noted human rights activist in Aceh, said the Shariah Police should be disbanded because they had proven themselves useless in implementing Islamic law and were a waste of taxpayer money.

“All they do is target and discriminate against women, scare people, particularly women, with their raids and target women who do not cover their hair or who wear tight clothing,” said Evi, executive director of the Coalition of Aceh Human Rights NGOs.

“We don’t want them to turn into a new paramilitary force. There’s no need for them in Aceh since it only adds to the trauma experienced by Acehnese women.”

Evi said the qanun , or Islamic code, served as the basis for the region’s Shariah-inspired laws but police operations enforcing them were applied selectively.

“So many state officials, for instance, are caught engaging in immoral acts but none of them ever face lashings. They pay a fine,” she said. “There was even a [Shariah Police] official caught acting immorally with a woman in Banda Aceh, but nothing happened to him.”

The issue has made it to the Internet with groups on the social networking site Facebook pushing for the Shariah Police to be disbanded. One group had attracted more than 1,900 members as of Tuesday night, while another group condemning the alleged rapists had drawn nearly 4,000 members.

Andre Ahmad, founder of the group called Bubarkan WH di Aceh (Disband the Shariah Police in Aceh), said that he had set up the group in response to “the tragic and humiliating incident in the implementation of Islamic Shariah in Aceh.”

Evi said she and other women’s rights activists in Aceh would fully support the Shariah Police if they worked to ensure that the interests of the people — such as the provision of good health services, affordable basic necessities and free education — were fulfilled as required by Islamic law.

She said Shariah principles would be better implemented through different government agencies, not through law enforcers. “I’ve talked with members of the Shariah Police in Meulaboh. They say they are only there to pass judgement on people’s morals.”