Indonesia's Aceh whips gay couple for sharia-banned sex

In Aceh public flogging is a common punishment for a range of offences including gambling, drinking alcohol, and having gay sex or relations outside of marriage

A gay couple was publicly whipped in Indonesia's conservative Aceh province Friday, despite an earlier pledge by officials to stop the punishment after it drew international criticism. The two men were flogged more than 80 times each for having gay sex, which is outlawed under local Islamic law, as a jeering crowd hurled abuse at them. They were among 15 people whipped outside a mosque in the provincial capital Banda Aceh on Friday for crimes including drinking or selling alcohol and showing affection in public. A crowd of about 1,000 people, including tourists from neighbouring Malaysia, snapped pictures and shouted "flog them harder" as a hooded figure rained down lashes from a rattan cane on their backs. The unidentified men were the second gay couple whipped in public this year in Aceh, underscoring the increasing discrimination faced by Indonesia's small LGBT community. Aceh is the only region in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, that imposes Islamic law. Public flogging is a common punishment for a range of offences including gambling, drinking alcohol, and having gay sex or relations outside of marriage. "Hopefully the flogging we're witnessing today will serve as a lesson for people not to violate sharia (Islamic law)," said Banda Aceh official Tarmizi Yahya. Few in the crowd appeared to have much sympathy. "I don't think they're being serious about the flogging -- it looks like they are just playing around," said Bukhari, a fisherman who came to watch with his wife. "The sharia officer should have flogged them as hard as he could." Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra island, said this year it would stop public whippings but continue the punishment behind prison walls. The new policy has not yet been implemented. Rights groups slam public caning as cruel, and Indonesia's President Joko Widodo has called for it to end. But the practice has wide support among Aceh's mostly Muslim population, including Aceh's governor Irwandi Yusuf, who was arrested last week on corruption charges. It is unlikely that Yusuf -- a law and order champion who described criticism of flogging criminals as "Islamophobic" -- will face a public caning. The gay men whipped on Friday were apprehended by a vigilante mob at a Banda Aceh beauty salon earlier this year and handed over to police, authorities said. Gay sex is not illegal elsewhere in Indonesia, but there has been a backlash against the community in recent years. Aceh started using religious law after it was granted special autonomy in 2001, an attempt by the central government to quell a long-running separatist insurgency.