25 November 2007

Steal and Lose a Hand!

The implementation of strict Sharia Law in Indonesia was always thought to be a matter of time proposition in the world's largest Muslim nation. However, there was always an underlying hope that this would not come to pass as the potential for this to become a trigger of social unrest and conflict is also a matter of time proposition. Unless, the laws apply universally across the archipelago then a double standard of punishment will be in effect. No doubt an interesting case for the Constitutional Court to hear in light of the no discrimination articles in the 1945 Constitution.

With the decentralization and devolution of central government authority as a consequence of greater regional autonomy there has been a significant increase in the number of Sharia-based or inspired laws finding their way on to regional statute books. Bulukumbu in the Province of Sulawesi is touted often as an example of Sharia Law implementation.

Since 2002 there have been laws implemented relating to the drinking of alcohol, gambling, the compulsory wearing of Islamic attire, as well as compulsory learning of the Koran. Depending on who you ask there is a sense that with the implementation of Sharia Law there has been a decrease in crime, gambling, and other sinful activities. There is also a belief that women are more pure. This is to be expected considering that Sharia Law is seen as the laws of God as implemented on earth.

For non-Muslims wanting to become part of the Civil Service in this part of the world, a headscarf for women is also compulsory attire. The justification is that it is part of the uniform and if you want the job you wear the uniform, simple enough!

However, it is being reported that 20 villages within the Gantarang municipality have agreed to implement a regulation that requires the hand of a thief to be cut off. It seems that this is conditional on the thief being caught red-handed (pun intended). At the same meeting it was also agreed that for offences relating to alcohol and gambling the public canings will be upped to a level of 80 lashes.

In the period since regional autonomy was legislated there has been an explosion in the numbers of regional regulations being enacted. The exact amount of suspect regional and local regulations that would not comply with the necessary superior legislation is estimated to be in the hundreds and possibly thousands. It is not uncommon for the Department of Home Affairs to cancel non-complying regulations. So, it will be interesting to see whether this particular regulation survives the cut (again the pun intended).

The biggest fear is vigilante justice. How is this regulation to be enforced and who gets to decide when the punishment must be implemented. In Indonesia it is not uncommon for a victim to scream out thief and the local populace come to the rescue by chasing down the alleged perpetrator and beating them senseless, sometimes to death, but without a doubt within an inch or two of their lives. This form of retribution is often excessively violent and because of its instantaneous nature completely free of any due process of law.

But in the meantime if you are ever in any one of these villages make sure anything you pick up you put back or pay for it!


Anggara said...

the usage of sharia in Indonesia on the local regulation is still make a huge debate in Indonesia. But the supreme court decision on Tangerang local regulation on prostitution is also completely confusing. The regulation it self is contrary to the national law but the supreme court say has no violation to any national law
is it because a euphoria of democracy or it will change the atmosphere of Indonesian law?

Rob Baiton said...

Anggara thanks as always for the comments!

It makes an interesting question as to whether Sharia based laws are a result of any euphoria stemming from increased deomcracy or whether the laws stem from the simple fact that regions have the power to draft and pass them.

Another interseting consideration is whether the laws are a minority view, but the view held by those in power, or whether the view is that of the masses?

I am not a social scientist, neither in the sense of training not research, but even without empirical data I have strong misgivings that the amputation of a hand for theft is really a deterrent. This is in much the same way that there is no real data to sustain arguments that the death penalty acts as a deterrent.

People commit crimes! And the strict imposition of religious laws is unlikely to change this fact. Even with the ultimate deterrent in place in Indonesia people are still committing crimes. Adding the amputation of hands for theft does not seem to be the right way to go.

I do not think I have enough space to comment on the Supreme Court decision in this blog! But needless to say, all courts in Indonesia need to become more consistent in either how cases are decided or the judges need to be schooled in how to provide their respective legal reasonings in the written decisions in a manner which is comprehensible.