Two men in Indonesia’s conservative Aceh province have been publicly lashed 77 times each after neighbourhood vigilantes burst into their apartment last November and reported them to Islamic religious police for allegedly having sex with each other.
The caning is the third time people have been punished for practicing homosexuality since Aceh banned it under Shariah law in 2015. The consumption of alcohol, gambling, tight clothing for women, and extramarital sex have also been outlawed under Shariah ordinances.
The men, aged 27 and 29, were whipped on Thursday with a rattan stick in front of dozens of people by a team of five enforcers wearing long brown robes and hoods.
The pair reportedly winced as they were struck and the punishment was briefly halted to allow them to drink water. The mother of one man fainted at the scene.
A Shariah court last month sentenced each man to 80 strokes, but they received 77 to compensate for time spent in prison. Morality offenses including gay sex can be punished by up to 100 lashes.
On the same day, a woman and man were each given 20 lashes for being caught in close proximity to each other, and two men were given 40 lashes each for drinking alcohol.
"Islamic sharia enforcement is final, no matter who it is, and even visitors must respect local norms," public order official Heru Triwijanarko told AFP.
Aceh is the only one of the Southeast Asian nation’s 34 provinces to adopt Shariah, and did so as a concession made by the government in Jakarta to end a decade-long separatist rebellion.
At the time, Acehnese political leaders promised the law would not affect religious minorities and would respect international human rights.
Outside of Aceh, homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, but the country's low-profile LGBT community has for years been marginalised, targeted by police raids and sometimes violently attacked.
In a statement, Human Rights Watch said Thursday’s whipping was recognised as “torture under international law” and said it was part of a “longstanding pattern of targeted abuse by Acehnese authorities” against LBGT people.
“The abuse also is part of a five-year anti-LGBT campaign driven by many of Indonesia’s national and local leaders with harmful rhetoric and repeated failure to punish abusers,” it added.
“The Indonesian government has made commitments in principle to protect LGBT people. But it seems President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo’s slogan of "unity in diversity" does not genuinely extend to protecting everyone – including the two men mercilessly flogged today.”
A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “The UK opposes all forms of discrimination and is committed to protecting the rights and freedoms of LGBT people around the world.
“We urge Indonesia to ensure that national and local laws are non-discriminatory and celebrate the diversity and tolerance of its people."