Residents of the Indonesian province of Aceh, in north-western Sumatra, have complained that the implementation of Sharia there appears to disproportionately target people of low status.

The Islamic criminal code stipulates punishments such as caning for actions outlawed under Sharia, such as homosexual activity, adultery, drinking alcohol, gambling, rape and sexual harassment.

The Institute for Criminal Justice Reform recorded that the Aceh Shariah Council issued sentences for 221 violations of the by-law from January to September, and that at least 180 violators were caned.

The North Aceh-based Legal Aid Society for Women and several other organisations issued a joint statement, saying there had been “cases of wrongful arrest and violent acts by ‘Sharia police’ “ and that the [by-law’s] implementation was “discriminative because it’s not applied to people with authority”.

One Muslim woman, Farida, told UCAN this week: “The [by-law] is strictly applied to low-status people and, if they violate it, they’re punished publicly… I barely hear about cases involving officials.”

Sharia police “look for girls and women not wearing headscarves and unmarried couples sitting in the street. We feel intimidated,” she said.

On 17 October, a woman was caned after being accused of “standing too close to her boyfriend”, according to a report in The Independent, a British newspaper.

The law has also affected Indonesia’s Christian minority. In April, 60-year-old Remita Sinaga, of the Batak Protestant Church, was publicly whipped 28 times after being found guilty of selling alcohol.

Syahrizal Abbas, head of Aceh’s provincial Sharia agency, acknowledged that the by-law’s implementation needs to be reviewed, saying: “There must be no discrimination in Sharia law.”