Cablegate: Aceh: Implications of New Sharia Law Allowing Stoning

DE RUEHJA #1533/01 2580742
P 150742Z SEP 09




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) This cable is Sensitive but Unclassified. Please handle
accordingly. This message was coordinated with Embassy Jakarta.

2. (SBU) Summary. Provincial leaders and civil society groups in
Aceh have voiced strong concern and the Indonesian central
government is considering the constitutionality of a draconian
Shariah law passed recently by the Aceh Provincial Parliament
(DPRA). DPRA unanimously passed a local law (qanun) on Sharia
punishments for crimes including stoning to death for adultery and
steep prison terms and public caning for homosexual acts, rape, and
pedophilia just two weeks before the end of the current DPRA's
5-year term. Aceh leaders assured Consulate Medan that the more
severe provisions - such as the stoning provision - will never be
implemented. Elements of Sharia law have been implemented since 2001
in Aceh but enforcement and vigor has been waning in past years. The
new push seems to be a combination of a desire to leave a pious
legacy on the part of the ineffective outgoing parliament and a
political climate that brooks no room for formal political
opposition to what is perceived as "conservative Muslim values".
Nevertheless, chances for any implementation of measures like
stoning are extremely low. Also, the newly elected parliament which
will be installed in early October is more secular and could strike
down the more odious provisions. End Summary.

Putting the Law into Context
3. (SBU) Aceh local Parliament passed a Sharia law on September 14
which would impose penalties up to stoning to death for adultery and
steep prison terms and public caning for homosexual acts, rape, and
pedophilia. Both the Governor and Deputy Governor have stated their
clear opposition to the stoning provision. Without their support the
law cannot be implemented even if it takes effect. Furthermore,
April local elections put a new parliamentary plurality in the hands
of the ex-GAM Aceh Party, an organization built by former combatants
supportive and committed to secular law and focused on leveraging
Aceh's autonomy rather than further implementing tenets of religious

4. (U) Indonesians, including Acehnese, continue to practice a very
moderate for of Islam. Aceh Province contains only some 1.6 percent
of Indonesia's total population of some 240 million. The current
controversy over the stoning provisions in the new law should also
be put into context of the fact that Aceh remains the only one of
Indonesia's 33 provinces to implement Sharia law. In addition,
trends in Aceh in recent years have seen a waning of enforcement of
existing Sharia statutes and public discontent with the Sharia

Local Concerns Expressed
5. (SBU) Provincial government officials including Aceh Vice
Governor Muhammad Nazar publicly voiced their opposition to the
stoning clause in the law in the days leading up to the vote on
September 14. Aceh Provincial Secretary Husni Bahri (senior civil
servant and number three after the Vice Governor in the Provincial
Government) publicly stated on September 11 that the Provincial
Government has not agreed to fully endorse the measure because of
the stoning clause. Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf is out of the
country but made his opposition to the stoning provision clear to
Consulate Medan on September 15.

6. (SBU) Aceh's NGO Forum Head also expressed a desire for more
transparency and debate before hastily passing an ill-considered law
when contacted by Consulate Medan on September 14. According to him
the parliamentary leadership was less enthusiastic than the
individual parties but political room to criticize any element of
Sharia law is limited given the association between Sharia and
promoting core conservative Muslim values in Aceh. Civil society had
convened a roundtable to openly discuss the draft qanun on September
9, but their recommendations, including ensuring the inclusion of
protection of basic human rights, have been ignored by the DPRA.

7. (SBU) National human rights NGO Kontras also publicly called for
a delay in the legalization of the laanun in a statement September
14 statetment. Kontras also called for the involvement of Muslim
scholars and academics in Aceh as well as legal scholars also civil
society including women's groups. Opponents of the qanun also
assembled outside the DPRA on Monday as the debate progressed, as

JAKARTA 00001533 002 OF 003

did supporters of the legislation. Many civil society groups have
called the law's passage premature and called for public discussion
on the issue noting that the 7-day period for public comments
allowed for draft qanun had not been provided.

Saving a Parliamentary Legacy?
8. (SBU) The current DPRA's legacy has already seen a record of
intransigence in working with the Provincial Government and an
almost total lack of accountability to the public on a range of
issues, compounded by the fact that all of the parties currently
represented in the DPRA lost badly in elections for the local
parliament held on April 9. This has assured that the new local
parliament that will take its seat in early October will be
controlled by the local ex-GAM Aceh Party (33 of 69 seats) and the
national parties currently sitting in Banda Aceh will to a large
extent lose their power and influence over the provincial
legislative agenda. The current move is seen by many observers as an
attempt to shore up a poor legislative legacy with a pious final
act. Only President Yudhoyono's Democratic Party (PD) voiced any
opposition during debate on the stoning clause. PD members told
Consulate Medan that in the end they had to go along with the vote
since Sharia law is based on the Koran and hadith (teachings) of
Mohammed and any opposition to the qanun would be seen as

9. (SBU) Local Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) members in Aceh
involved in drafting the qanun have called it "a door to repentance"
and "a preventative step for the people of Aceh to avoid moral
damage". PKS members also told the media the current legislation is
a counter to foreign influences in Aceh. The international community
has been working in Aceh for nearly 5 years on Tsunami
reconstruction and the timing of the law being passed by the
outgoing DPRA now for that reason is highly suspect. Observers told
Consulate Medan on September 15 that passing this qanun may be an
attempt to profile the outgoing legislators as pious.

Sharia Law Application Spotty and Waning
10. (SBU) The great irony in the current legal frenzy to pass the
new Sharia qanun is that enforcement of Sharia law has been waning
in the past few years. Incidents of frustration with the Sharia
police have grown and government resources for their work have been
restricted. The previous presence of roadblocks checking for proper
dress, for example, has completely disappeared as of this year.
Public canings have become more public sport than pain-inducing
spectacle as to the canings inflict only minor pain and public
humiliation. Aceh Governor Irwandi Yusuf has repeatedly stated to
Consulate Medan and many others that his administration is keeping
Sharia law implementation at bay and resources limited since he
views the inclusion of Sharia law into Aceh's autonomy as a sort of
"poisoned apple" forced on Aceh by Jakarta without much
consideration during the 2001 autonomy negotiations.

Implications and Chances for Implementation
11. (SBU) Several analysts contacted by Embassy Jakarta on
September 15 made the point that this should not be taken out of
context or seen as an example of a growing trend in Indonesia to
implement Sharia law across the country. In fact, our contacts told
us that the new law would likely never be implemented as it does not
represent the wishes of the Acehnese people. Nor does it reflect the
ideals of the newly-elected Acehnese government, which has expressed
its commitment to secular values. In fact, Sharia-inspired bylaws
have been on the decline in Indonesia since 2007. We expressed
concern on September 14 to our GOI contacts that this new bylaw
could be seen as a win by the Islamists and a setback to secular
democracy in Indonesia.

12. (SBU) Contacts within the Islamic-based Prosperous Justice
Party (PKS) in Jakarta contacted no September 15 told us that he was
not concerned as it would be nearly impossible to implement such a
law. "This type of law is used in Aceh as a means of placing fear in
people to live in accordance to Islamic laws and values," he said.
He also noted that it was time for Islamic scholars to get involved
and work with local Acehnese leaders to discuss the correct
interpretation of Sharia law, which is often misinterpreted, he

JAKARTA 00001533 003 OF 003

13. (SBU) Although by law all qanun passed by the DRPA go into
effect 30 days after they are passed, the chances for actual
implementation by the state of any of the harsher provisions
including the stoning of adulterers remains extremely remote.
The Coordinating Ministry for Politics and Security's Desk Aceh
(FKK) Deputy Zainal Arifin told Consulate Medan that the stoning
provision would never be implemented. He and the head of Desk Aceh
landed in Banda Aceh on September 15 to specifically discuss
coordination between the local and central governments on the qanun
and he categorically stated that the stoning provision was a no-go.


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