Shariah court in Indonesia sentences gay couple to caning

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An Indonesian Islamic court has sentenced two young men to 85 lashes of cane each for having sexual relations, marking the first time the penalty for homosexuality introduced in the conservative Aceh province has been used.

One of the two men found guilty of gay sex gasps in shock after being sentenced to 85 lashes of the cane in a Banda Aceh court.

Asked by the judge if he accepted the verdict, one of the men said softly: "Please reduce my sentence".

News reports said that vigilantes had caught the two men naked in bed, and that the two had pleaded not to be reported to the Shariah police.

Chief prosecutor Gulmaini said they will be caned next week, before Ramadan starts.

Marzuki, head of the Aceh Provincial Sharia Law Department, said residents in the local area had been suspicious of the men because they of their apparent intimacy, and deliberately set out to catch them having sex. The second man is repeatedly pushed by another man who is preventing the couple from leaving the room.

"As Muslims, the defendants should uphold the sharia law that prevails in Aceh", the state prosecuting panel of three judges concluded.

Worldwide human rights groups described the treatment of the men as abusive and humiliating and called for their immediate release. Human Rights Watch said in April that public caning would constitute torture under global law. The sentencing of these two men comes just days after the imprisonment of outgoing Christian governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, commonly known as Ahok.

"The prosecution is very harsh".

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Last October, president Joko "Jokowi" Widodo said police must defend the country's LGBT population, but Human Rights Watch has accused him of inaction since.

"I think it shows the increasing conservative tradition in Indonesia", Mr Harsono told Fairfax Media.

Aceh is the only province in Muslim-majority Indonesia, which still practices Shariah law.

Under Islamic criminal law anyone found guilty of being engaged in same-sex intercourse faces the maximum punishment of 100 strokes.

Dede Oetomo, a veteran Indonesian gay rights campaigner, said that Acehnese activists were "all scared".

Public caning sentences have been handed down previously only for gambling and drinking alcohol.

Over 300 people were reportedly caned for such offenses in 2016.

This is Indonesia's first conviction for homosexuality, which is not illegal in the rest of the country.

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