This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.
On Thursday, 46-year-old Mukhlis Muhammad, a member of a law-making body in Aceh, Indonesia, was publicly flogged 28 times after he was caught in a car with a married woman by the province’s religious police. Being in a non-public setting with a person of the opposite sex who one is not married to is a punishable offence in Aceh.
Aceh is the only province in Indonesia that practices strict Islamic Sharia law. Through the Aceh Ulema Council (MPU), a body that advises the local government in implementing Sharia law, Muhammad was involved in drafting the very law he broke. He was also a religious leader in a mosque. The identity of the woman he was caught with has not been publicly released, but she too was caned 23 times.
“They were caught sitting together in the middle row of a car parked at Ulee Lheu beach,” Muhammad Hidayat, head of Aceh municipal police, told BBC Indonesia. It was later revealed that they had an affair.
After the two were caught on September 9, a judge declared them guilty of adultery and were given the punishment of public flogging. This form of punishment has been common in Aceh since 2005 and is used for a variety of offences, including gay sex and extramartital relationships.
This was the first time a religious figure was flogged in Aceh.
The MPU also announced on September 9 that Muhammad had resigned from the council.
Teungku Waled Husaini, Deputy Mayor of Aceh, said he was “pleased” with the outcome of this case and that the punishment of a religious figure proves that Sharia law does not discriminate.
“If his actions violated the government’s interpretation of Islamic law, he must be flogged. Even if I, the deputy mayor, break these laws, I must be flogged as well,” Husaini told local media.
However, Islamic law expert Irwan Abady is not convinced that Sharia law doesn’t discriminate.
“If it were a politician or the deputy mayor actually being flogged, then I would say Sharia law applies to everyone equally. The flogging of an MPU member only serves to protect the reputation of the institution he represented,” Abady told BBC Indonesia.
Reza Idria, a Harvard University doctoral candidate whose research focuses on Sharia law in Aceh, also criticised Sharia law in the province for “only focusing on human relationships, dress codes, and other mundane issues,” instead of addressing actual public concerns like corruption.