Sharia court sentences gay men to public lashing in Indonesia

Two men arrive for their trial Wednesday at a Sharia court in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.

Story highlights

  • Two men were sentenced to 85 lashes for having sexual relations
  • Sentence comes soon after outgoing Jakarta governor jailed over blasphemy

(CNN)A Sharia court in Indonesia's conservative Aceh province sentenced two gay men to a public caning Wednesday.

The men, ages 20 and 23, were arrested in March by vigilantes within their community in Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province.
    They were subsequently found guilty of violating Aceh's strict Islamic laws and were sentenced to 85 lashes, according to Evendi, the head of Sharia law enforcement in Banda Aceh.
    Khairil Jamal, the lead judge, said that "the court has proven that the defendants without doubt are legally guilty of committing sodomy."
    He said, "No evidence was found to justify and forgive them. Therefore, they shall be punished accordingly."
    Neighbors barged into an apartment with the men and filmed them naked with camera phones, according to rights groups. The videos were shared widely in local media.
    Evendi told CNN the public caning would be done "in one of the mosques in Banda Aceh."
    An Indonesian man waits in a cell Wednesday before a trial in a Sharia court in Banda Aceh.
    LGBT activists and human rights groups have condemned the sentence.
    "These young men are two Indonesians who wanted nothing more than to live their lives and have their privacy respected," Kyle Knight from Human Rights Watch wrote about the case last week.
    "Now they await a public flogging. A pluralist president like (Joko Widodo) should recognize the right thing to do here is to spare these two the rod."
    Gay sex is legal everywhere else in Muslim-majority Indonesia, a nation generally known to be moderate and tolerant.
    However, experts say Indonesia is becoming increasingly conservative, with large anti-LGBT protests in Jakarta and passionate reactions to allegations of blasphemy commonplace in recent years.

    Turning tide?

    The sentence comes on the heels of the imprisonment of outgoing Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, commonly known as Ahok.
    He was sentenced to two years in prison after being found guilty of blasphemy. He had been accused of insulting Islam during his re-election campaign.
    The trial was seen as a test of Indonesia's religious tolerance, but the governor's election defeat and then his sentencing appeared to be a victory for Indonesia's conservative Muslims, who campaigned heavily against Ahok.
    Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, center, enters the court room as he attends his sentencing hearing in Jakarta, Indonesia, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The minority Christian governor is currently on trial on accusation of blasphemy following his remark about a passage in the Quran that could be interpreted as prohibiting Muslims from accepting non-Muslims as leaders. (Bay Ismoyo/Pool Photo via AP)
    Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, center, enters the court room as he attends his sentencing hearing in Jakarta, Indonesia, Tuesday, May 9, 2017. The minority Christian governor is currently on trial on accusation of blasphemy following his remark about a passage in the Quran that could be interpreted as prohibiting Muslims from accepting non-Muslims as leaders. (Bay Ismoyo/Pool Photo via AP)

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    Aceh is the only Indonesian province governed by conservative Sharia law under which unmarried men and women are forbidden to spend time together anywhere in private.
    To do so constitutes khalwat, directly translated as "seclusion" and punishable by public caning.
    The law of khalwat does not apply to men, who can be alone in a room together, even without clothes.
    However, Sharia punishes any same-sex acts harshly.