BANDA ACEH, Indonesia — Lawmakers in a devoutly Muslim Indonesian province voted unanimously Monday that adulterers could be sentenced to death by stoning, just months after voters overwhelmingly chose to throw conservative Islamic parties out of power.
Only weeks before the new government, led by the moderate Aceh Party, is set to take over, the regional parliament still controlled by hard-liners pushed through steep punishments for adultery and homosexuality.
The chairman of the 69-seat house asked if the bill could be passed into law and members answered in unison: "Yes, it can." Some members of the moderate Democrat Party voiced reservations, but none of them voted against the bill.
Human rights groups said the law violates international treaties signed by Indonesia. The province's deputy governor also opposed the legislation, saying it needed more careful consideration because it imposes a new form of capital punishment.
The Aceh Party is also believed to have a less strict interpretation of Islamic law, or Shariah, and some activists expressed hope that once in power, they would amend or tone down the law. Others were considering contesting the bill in court in the capital, Jakarta.
Aceh, where Islam first arrived in Indonesia from Saudi Arabia centuries ago, enjoys semiautonomy from the central government. A long-running Islamic insurgency in the province ended in 2005 in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 130,000 there.
A version of Shariah that was introduced in Aceh in 2001 already bans gambling and drinking alcohol, and makes it compulsory for women to wear headscarves. Dozens of public canings have been carried out by the local Shariah police against violators of that law.
The majority of Indonesia's roughly 200 Muslims practice a moderate form of the faith, and surveys suggest they do not support such hard-line interpretations of the Quran, the Muslim holy book.
Stoning is legally sanctioned in varying forms in Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and parts of Nigeria. Illegal stonings have also been reported in recent years in Iraq and Somalia. But its use is a point of contention among Islamic scholars.
The most notable example in modern Islam was that of Amina Lawal, a young woman who was sentenced to death in a Nigerian state in 2002 for having sex outside marriage, but was later released.
The new Indonesian law also imposes tough sentences and fines, to be paid in kilograms of gold, for rape and pedophilia, but the most hotly disputed article was on adultery and states that offenders can be punished by a minimum of 100 lashings and a maximum of stoning to death.
Lashings, prison for homosexuality
"The stoning to death is the toughest punishment included in the (new) Shariah law," Bahrom Rasjid, one of the drafters and a member of the United Development Party, said after its passage.
It also imposes severe prison terms for other behavior considered morally unacceptable, including homosexuality, which will be punishable by public lashings and more than eight years in prison.
The bill violates national and international treaties signed by Indonesia protecting the rights of minorities and women, said a gay rights activist in Aceh who requested anonymity because he feared for his safety.
"It's discriminatory, and it's saddening, but we are quite sure members of civil society who are concerned with human rights will not sit by silently," the activist said, adding that he hopes the new moderate leadership in the province will overturn the law after taking power next month.
Aceh Vice Governor Muhamad Nazar said that even though his office opposed the clause on stoning to death it has no legal power to block it. "Whatever law is passed we have to enforce it," he said.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.