Indonesian Christian whipped for selling sharia-banned booze

Banda Aceh (Indonesia), Jan 19 (AFP) An IndonesianChristian was publicly flogged today for selling alcohol inconservative Aceh province, a violatio...

Banda Aceh (Indonesia), Jan 19 (AFP) An IndonesianChristian was publicly flogged today for selling alcohol inconservative Aceh province, a violation of Islamic law, as acrowd of onlookers including children jeered.

Jono Simbolon grimaced in pain when a masked religiousofficer lashed his back with a rattan stick on a makeshiftstage outside a mosque in the provincial capital Banda Aceh.

He is only the third non-Muslim to suffer a publicwhipping since Aceh, on Sumatra island, began implementingIslamic law after it was granted special autonomy in 2001 --an attempt by the central government to quell a long-runningseparatist insurgency.

"This is our government's commitment to enforcing Islamiclaw," said Banda Aceh mayor Aminullah Usman.

"If there is a violation (of the law) immediately reportit to the sharia police and we will carry out a punishmentlike today's caning," he said, referring to religiousauthorities.

A doctor checked on Simbolon's condition after 10 strokesbefore the flogging continued.

He was one of 10 people - eight men and two women - canedafter Friday prayers for offences including pimping,prostitution and gambling.

One unmarried couple received 20 strokes each for beingtoo physically close to each other -- seen as a prelude tobanned pre-marital sex.

Simbolon was arrested in October and sentenced to 36lashes for selling illegal alcohol.

About 98 percent of Aceh's five million residents areMuslims subject to religious law, known locally as Qanun.

Non-Muslims who have committed an offence that violatesboth national and religious laws -- such as selling bootlegliquor -- can choose to be prosecuted under either system.

"(Simbolon) is a Christian but he decided to bow toQanun," chief prosecutor Erwin Desman said, adding that theman may have chosen a flogging to avoid a lengthy criminalprosecution.

Aceh is the only province in Indonesia, the world's mostpopulous Muslim-majority country, which implements Islamiclaw, or Sharia.

Last year, two gay men who admitted having sex wereflogged in Aceh, with each receiving 100 strokes of the cane,drawing heavy criticism from rights groups.

Gay sex is not illegal in the rest of Indonesia, whichmainly follows a criminal code inherited from former colonialruler the Netherlands. (AFP)CPS.

This is unedited, unformatted feed from the Press Trust of India wire.

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