Indonesia's first ever female flogging squad in action; does a 'good job with nice technique'

Under Aceh's Sharia law, public flogging is given to people who engage in a range of crimes like gambling, adultery, drinking alcohol and gay or pre-marital sex.

Indonesia's Aceh province has set up a special squad of woman floggers who will be tasked with caning females who violate the Islamic code. Deeply conservative Aceh is the only province in Indonesia that enforces the strict Sharia law. The new flogging team started its work this week after undergoing training, the Agence France-Presse reported from Banda Aceh.

The photo published by the agency shows a woman flogger, dressed in a lose-fitting brown garment and face mask, caning a woman clad in white clothes who is sitting on a blue mat. The convict was an unmarried woman who was caught in a hotel room with a man.

A caning sentence being carried out in Banda Aceh,
A caning sentence being carried out in Banda Aceh, 19 September 2014 VOA / Wikimedia Commons

Round-the-clock watch by Aceh Syariah (shariah) police

Under Aceh's Shariah law, public flogging is given to people who engage in a range of crimes like gambling, adultery, drinking alcohol and having gay or pre-marital sex. Neighbouring Malaysia, which is also Muslim-majority, practices public whipping for similar crimes. However, Malaysia does not subject woman offenders to caning. Men above 50, as long as they are not accused of rape, and death row inmates are also exempted from caning in Malaysia.

Aceh, which is a region on Sumatra island, still whips female offenders. There is a rise in the number of men and women being charged with offences mostly relating to sexual relations and caned in public. Aceh Syariah (shariah) police watch over the streets round-the-clock in three shifts and identify people engaged in offensive acts. The police say public caning is a good deterrent.

Radicals call for stoning, beheading

The report adds that radicals in Aceh are calling for stricter punishments like public stoning for sex-related crimes. The relentless focus of the vigilantes is same-sex acts. "Syariah in Aceh is still lenient," the report quotes a resident as saying. "Aceh needs harsher punishments like stoning, not just whipping. Someone committing adultery should be stoned 100 times," the person added.

Trash and debris line the streets while locals ride their motorbike through a cleared lane checking on the aftermath in downtown Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia, following the massive Tsunami that struck the area on December 26, 2004. Wikimedia Commons / Michael L. Bak

President Widodo calls for the abolition of public flogging

Public flogging in Aceh is a harsh form of punishment. People who are charged with sex offences often get up to 150 lashes, most often causing them to pass out. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have called out Aceh for the "barbaric" and "inhumane" torture of suspects. The archaic social norms also put women in double jeopardy. Victims of rape and sexual abuse run the risk of being accused of errant behaviour and being subjected to public shaming and punishment.

Though Indonesian President Joko Widodo has called for the abolition of the practice, public whipping continues to be popular among the mostly Muslim population. Aceh got the right to impose Islamic law under the 2005 autonomy pact with Jakarta.

With the creation of the first female flogging squad, Aceh shows it's committed to perpetuating the ill-treatment of women despite international condemnation. The AFP report says that the first recruit in the flogging squad needed some 'coaxing' in the beginning as she set out to whip the victim.

However, she learned the ropes very quickly and did a 'nice job', Banda Aceh Sharia police chief investigator said. "I think she did a good job. Her technique was nice," the officer said.