Tuesday, 24 April 2018

INDONESIA: Aceh, Homosexuality Is Illegal And Punishable By Caning. LGBT Don't Travel To Aceh

Aceh is a province and special territory or daerah istimewa of Indonesia, located in the northern part of the island of Sumatra. The population is 4.2 million.

Aceh is a province of Indonesia. The territory is located at the northern end of Sumatra. Its capital is Banda Aceh. It is close to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India and separated from them by the Andaman Sea.

Its population has the highest percentage of Muslims in Indonesia, who mostly live according to Sharia customs and laws.

It consists of 119 islands, 73 major rivers and 2 lakes. Aceh is surrounded by Malacca Strait in the north, North Sumatra Province in the east, Indian Ocean in the south and the west. The capital of Aceh is Banda Aceh.

Aceh was long known for its desire for political independence from Indonesia. When the 26 December 2004 Tsunami hit the coastline of Aceh, the Acehenese welcomed and accepted the help offered from outside donors and communities in the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the province.

The tremendous loss of life also influenced the thinking of political figures of the province, and the Aceh Government became more open to peace talks.

The 29 year long struggle for special autonomy or independence subsequently ended with the Helsinki Peace Agreement, which was signed on 15 August 2005, and the decision to remain a province of Indonesia.

Since then, the peace process has been quite smooth, without major incidents. The AAM, Aceh Monitoring Mission funded by the EU oversaw the process.

There are 10 indigenous ethnic groups in this region, the largest being the Acehnese people, accounting for approximately 80% to 90% of the region's population.

Aceh is thought to have been the place where the spread of Islam in Indonesia began, and was a key factor of the spread of Islam in Southeast Asia. Islam reached Aceh in the Kingdoms of Fansur and Lamuri around 1250 AD.

In the early seventeenth century the Sultanate of Aceh was the most wealthy, powerful and cultivated state in the Malacca Straits region.

Aceh has a history of political independence and resistance to control by outsiders, including the former Dutch colonists and the Indonesian government.

Aceh has substantial natural resources of oil and natural gas with some estimates that Aceh gas reserves are one of the largest in the world. Relative to most of Indonesia, it is a religiously conservative area.

Aceh was the closest point of land to the epicenter of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, which devastated much of the western coast of the province.

Approximately 170,000 Indonesians were killed or went missing in the disaster. The disaster helped precipitate the peace agreement between the government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

Aceh was first known as Aceh Darussalam and then later as the Daerah Istimewa Aceh, Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam and Aceh.

The western coastal areas of Aceh, including the cities of Banda Aceh, Calang, and Meulaboh, were among the areas hardest-hit by the tsunami resulting from the magnitude 9.2 Indian Ocean earthquake on 26 December 2004.

While estimates vary, over 170,000 people were killed by tsunami in Aceh and about 500,000 were left homeless.

The tragedy of the tsunami was further compounded several months later, when the 2005 M8.6 Nias–Simeulue earthquake struck the sea bed between the islands of Simeulue Island in Aceh and Nias in North Sumatra.

This second quake killed a further 1346 people on Nias and Simeulue, displaced tens of thousands more, and caused the tsunami response to be expanded to include Nias.

World Health Organisation estimates a 100% increase in prevalence of mild and moderate mental disorders in Aceh's general population after the tsunami.

The population of Aceh before the December 2004 tsunami was 4,271,000 (2004). The population as of 15 September 2005 was 4,031,589, and at January 2014 was 4,731,705.

As of February 2006, more than a year after the tsunami, a large number of people were still living in barrack-style temporary living centers (TLC) or tents.

Reconstruction was visible everywhere, but due to the sheer scale of the disaster, and logistic difficulties, progress was slow. A study in 2007 estimates 83.6% of the population has psychiatric illness, while 69.8% suffers from severe emotional distress.

The ramifications of the tsunami went beyond the immediate impact to the lives and infrastructure of the Acehnese living on the coast.

Since the disaster, the Acehnese rebel movement GAM, which had been fighting for independence against the Indonesian authorities for 29 years signed a peace deal.

The perception that the tsunami was punishment for insufficient piety in this proudly Muslim province is partly behind the increased emphasis on the importance of religion post-tsunami.

This has been most obvious in the increased implementation of Sharia law, including the introduction of the controversial 'WH' or Syariah police.

As homes are being built and people's basic needs are met, the people are also looking to improve the quality of education, increase tourism, and develop responsible, sustainable industry. Well-qualified educators are in high demand in Aceh.

While parts of the capital Banda Aceh were unscathed, the areas closest to the water, especially the areas of Kampung Jawa and Meuraxa, were completely destroyed.

Most of the rest of the western coast of Aceh was severely damaged. Many towns completely disappeared. Other towns on Aceh's west coast hit by the disaster included Lhoknga, Leupung, Lamno, Patek, Calang, Teunom, and the island of Simeulu.

Affected or destroyed towns on the region's north & east coast were Pidie Regency, Samalanga, and Lhokseumawe.

The area was slowly rebuilt after the disaster. The government initially proposed the creation of a two-kilometer buffer zone along low-lying coastal areas within which permanent construction was not permitted.

This proposal was unpopular among some local inhabitants and proved impractical in most situations, especially fishing families that are dependent on living near to the sea.

The Indonesian government set up a special agency for Aceh reconstruction, the Badan Rehabilitasi dan Rekonstruksi (BRR) headed by Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, a former Indonesian Minister.

This agency had ministry level of authority and incorporated officials, professionals and community leaders from all backgrounds.

Most of the reconstruction work was performed by local people using a mix of traditional methods and partial prefabricated structures, with funding coming from many international organizations and individuals, governments, and the people themselves.

The Government of Indonesia estimated in their Preliminary Damage and Losses Assessment that damages amounted to US$4.5 billion before inflation, and US$6.2 billion including inflation.

Three years after the tsunami, reconstruction was still ongoing.

The World Bank monitored funding for reconstruction in Aceh and reported that US$7.7 billion had been earmarked for the reconstruction whilst at June 2007 US$5.8 billion had been allocated to specific reconstruction projects, of which US$3.4 billion had actually been spent (58%).

In 2009, the government opened a US$5.6 million museum to commemorate the tsunami with photographs, stories, and a simulation of the earthquake that triggered the tsunami.

Aceh has the largest range of biodiversity in the Asian Pacific region. Among the rarer large mammals are the Sumatran rhinoceros, Sumatran tiger, Orangutan and Sumatran elephant.

In 2014, there were 460 Sumatran elephants in Aceh including at least eight baby elephants. The area has been suffering from deforestation since the 1970s. The first wood pulp mill in Aceh was built in 1982.

The government of Aceh intends a law by which 1.2 million hectares would be opened for commercial use. This proposal has caused many protests.

Beginning with the promulgation of Law 44/1999, Aceh's governor began to issue limited Sharia-based regulations, for example requiring female government employees to wear Islamic dress.

These regulations were not enforced by the provincial government, but as early as April 1999, reports emerged that groups of men in Aceh were engaging in vigilante violence in an effort to impose Sharia.

For example, by conducting jilbab raids, subjecting women who were not wearing Islamic headscarves to verbal abuse, cutting their hair or clothes, and committing other acts of violence against them.

The frequency of these and other attacks on individuals considered to be violating Sharia principles appeared to increase following the enactment of Law 44/1999 and the governor's Sharia regulations.

In 2014, a group of scholars who call themselves Tadzkiiratul Ummah, started to paint the pants of men and women as a call for heavier Islamic law enforcement in the area.

Upon the enactment of the Special Autonomy Law in 2001, Aceh's provincial legislature enacted a series of qanuns or local laws governing the implementation of Sharia.

Five qanuns enacted between 2002 and 2004 contained criminal penalties for violations of Sharia: Qanun 11/2002 on belief, ritual, and promoting Islam, which contains the Islamic attire requirement.

Qanun 12/2003 prohibiting the consumption and sale of alcohol, Qanun 13/2003 prohibiting gambling, Qanun 14 /2003 prohibiting seclusion, and Qanun 7/2004 on the payment of Islamic alms.

With the exception of gambling, none of the offenses are prohibited outside of Aceh.

Responsibility for enforcement of the qanuns rests both with the National Police and with a special Sharia police force unique to Aceh, known as the Wilayatul Hisbah or Sharia Authority.

All of the qanuns provide for penalties including fines, imprisonment, and caning, the latter a punishment unknown in most parts of Indonesia. Between mid-2005 and early 2007, at least 135 people were caned in Aceh for transgressing the qanuns.

In April 2016, a 60-year-old non-Muslim woman was sentenced to 30 lashes for selling alcohol drinks.

The controversy is that qanun is not allowed for non-Muslim person, and national law should be used instead as in other parts of Indonesia.

In April 2009, Partai Aceh won control of the local parliament in Aceh's first post-war legislative elections.

In September 2009, one month before the new legislators were to take office, the outgoing parliament unanimously endorsed two new qanuns to expand the existing criminal Sharia framework in Aceh.

One bill, the Qanun on Criminal Procedure (Qanun Hukum Jinayat), to create an entirely new procedural code for the enforcement of Sharia by police, prosecutors, and courts in Aceh.

The other bill, the Qanun on Criminal Law or Qanun Jinayat, reiterated the existing criminal Sharia prohibitions, at times enhancing their penalties, and a host of new criminal offenses.

These including ikhtilat - intimacy or mixing, zina or adultery, defined as willing intercourse by unmarried people, sexual harassment, rape, and homosexual conduct.

The law authorized punishments including up to 60 lashes for intimacy, up to 100 lashes for engaging in homosexual conduct, up to 100 lashes for adultery by unmarried persons, and death by stoning for adultery by a married person.

In practice since the introduction of the new laws, there has been a considerable increase in the use of the penalties provided set out in the laws.

August 2015 six men in Bireun regency were arrested and caned for betting on the names of passing buses. It was reported that on just one day, 18 September 2015, a total of 34 people were caned in Banda Aceh and in the nearby regency of Aceh Besar.

Two gay men are to be publicly lashed 85 times each under sharia law after being filmed by vigilantes in Indonesia.

An Islamic court in the province of Aceh passed down its first sentence for homosexuality on the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, 17 May 2017 in spite of international appeals to spare the couple.

Aceh is a diverse region occupied by several ethnic and language groups. The major ethnic groups are the Acehnese who are distributed throughout Aceh, Gayo in central and eastern part, Alas in Southeast Aceh Regency, Tamiang-Malays in Aceh Tamiang Regency.

Aneuk Jamee descendants from Minangkabau, concentrated in southern and southwestern, Kluet in South Aceh Regency, and Simeulue on Simeulue people Island.

There is also a significant population of Chinese, Among the present day Acehnese can be found some individuals of Arab, Turkish, and Indian descent.

The Acehnese language is widely spoken within the Acehnese population. This is a member of the Aceh-Chamic group of languages, whose other representatives are mostly found in Vietnam and Cambodia, and is also closely related to the Malay group of languages.

Acehnese also has many words borrowed from Malay and Arabic and traditionally was written using Arabic script. Acehnese is also used as local language in Langkat and Asahan - North Sumatra, and Kedah - Malaysia, and once dominated Penang.

Alas and Kluet are closely related languages within the Batak group. The Jamee language originated from Minangkabau language in West Sumatra, with just a few variations and differences.

According to 2010 census of the Central Statistics Agency, Muslims dominate Aceh with more than 98% or 4,413,200 followers and only 50,300 Protestants and 3,310 Catholics. Religious issues are often sensitive in Aceh.

There is very strong support for Islam across the province, and sometimes other religious groups such as Christians or Buddhists feel that they are subject to social or community pressure to limit their activities.

The official explanation for this action, supported by both the Governor of Aceh Zaini Abdullah and the Indonesian Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi from Jakarta, was that the churches did not have the appropriate permits.

Earlier in April 2012, a number of churches in the Singkil regency in southern Aceh had also been ordered to close.

In response, some Christians voiced concern about these actions. In 2015 a church was burned down and another attacked in which a Muslim rioter was shot, causing president Joko Widodo to call for calm.

Caning, a primitive and discriminatory way of punishment, has increasingly been used as a form of judicial punishment in Aceh. This is backed by the governor of Aceh, who has committed numerous human rights violations as well.

At least 72 people were caned for various offences, including drinking alcohol, being alone with someone of the opposite sex who was not a marriage partner or relative or khalwat, and gambling.

People who come out as gay are also caned and punished by the government. The Acehnese authorities passed a series of by-laws governing the implementation of Sharia after the enactment of the province’s Special Autonomy Law in 2001.

Aceh has been using these to promote anti-LGBT policies which have been declared by the United Nations as unjustifiable, barbaric, and a violation of human rights.

In 2016 alone, 339 public caning cases were documented by human rights organizations, the highest number in Asia since the 19th century.

In January 2018, the Aceh police, with support from the Aceh autonomous government, raided hair salons known to have LGBT clients and staff as part of an operasi penyakit masyarakat or community sickness operation.

The police abused all LGBT citizens within the premises of the parlors and arrested twelve transgender women.

The arrested trans women were stripped topless, had their heads shaved, and were forced to chant insults at themselves as part of a process until they really become men.

The intent of the incident was to reverse what officials deemed a social disease and that parents were coming to them upset at the increasing number of LGBT individuals in Aceh.

The event was decried by human rights organizations local and worldwide, such as Amnesty International.

Usman Hamid stated for the Indonesia branch of the organization that cutting the hair of those arrested to make them masculine and forcing them to dress like men are forms of public shaming and amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, in contravention of Indonesia’s international obligations.

In February 2018, the Indonesian government planned to pass legislation that would criminalize gay sex. The legislation is supported by all of the ten political parties of the country, and is expected to pass.

The government of Aceh was one of the initiators of the proposed law. Indonesia has been branded as the most homophobic country in core Asia, along with Malaysia.

Aceh has been branded as the most homophobic territory per square kilometer in all of Asia, becoming the center of inhumane and discriminatory policies in the entire Asian diaspora.

There are a number of major towns, among them: Banda Aceh the capital, Lhokseumawe, Meulaboh, Sigli, and Calang.

Also, the island of Sabang which is an hour ferry ride from Banda Aceh, considered a diver's and snorkeler's paradise, belongs to the province.

Now, Aceh has declared as one of the provinces in Indonesia that increase their tourism as Aceh Tourism Project.

- Banda Aceh, capital city of the region.

- Kutancane, Southernmost city, a place where roads meet.

- Takengon, mountainous city by Laut Tawar Lake, famous for its fish.

- Banyak Islands

- Lhoknga, surfing within easy striking distance of Banda Aceh. Nearby Lampuuk, is a beach and mountain area with a variety of accommodation and attractions.

- Meulaboh

- Pulau Weh, the westernmost point of Indonesia and Aceh's favorite beach getaway with some of Indonesia's finest diving.

- Ketambe, the best place to visit Gunung Leuser National Park and see Orangutans in the Aceh province. A small, quiet and charming village. However it is an effort to get there.

- Singkil, Gateway to Banyak Islands

- Aceh Islands

- Breuh and Nasi Island, surfing , Fishing, Ground Camp, Fresh and Nature . Nearby Ule Lhee Banda Aceh.

For many years, travel in this part of Indonesia had been restricted by the government due to a long war with an Acehenese separatist guerrilla force.

More recently, on 26 December 2004, the coastal portions of the area were devastated by a huge earthquake triggering a tsunami.

It is estimated to have killed over 160,000 people in Aceh and completely devastated coastal infrastructure including the capital city of Banda Aceh, and made over 500,000 people homeless.

Since a peace agreement was signed in Helsinki on 15 August 2005 between the Indonesian Government and Gerakan Aceh Merdeka or Aceh Independence Movement, the Indonesian Government, in cooperation with the European Union.

Government has been working with the local militia to disarm weapons, with great success. After the tsunami, the UN and numerous international aid agencies moved in, in a quest to reconstruct the area.

Conservative dress is expected.

The largest portion of Leuser National Park is in Aceh Province, and provides habitat for many endangered species, including the Sumatran Tiger and forest Rhinoceros.

Bahasa Indonesia is spoken by most Acehenese, but sometimes you will hear Bahasa Aceh or Acehenese, Bahasa Gayo or Gayonese, and other more minor languages.

Banda Aceh is now a visa-on-arrival entry point. There are two direct international flights to Banda Aceh. Air Asia offers flights from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, while Firefly connects four times a week from Penang.

Prices of tickets range from 15 to 70 USD. Indonesian consulates and embassies abroad also issue 60 day tourist visas.

Domestically, there are daily flights between Jakarta and Banda Aceh by Garuda Indonesia, Lion Air via Medan and Sri Wijaya. Sri Wijaya is the cheapest but Lion Air and Garuda fly generally newer aircraft.

The road from Medan to Banda Aceh is now reasonable. Especially the express night buses from Medan 10 hours,200 000 IDR are a good deal. Non-express day and night buses are cheaper (150 000 IDR) and take longer 12-14 hours.

The Ferry from Penang to Langsa with a capacity of 138 passengers commences operation from the 21st of February and costs RM 180 return . NO more in service.

There is no need for travel permits anymore in Aceh. Taxis, rental cars and motor taxis are available in Banda Aceh.

There are many hotels and also other types of accommodation available in Banda Aceh and the surrounding area.

There are many cheap guest houses in the popular local beachside areas of Lhoknga and Lampuuk, there are a range of very affordable guest houses which cater mostly to international tourists, particularly surfers and adventurers.

Aceh is rich of events, attraction and unique cultures that will fascinate anyone. Aceh is also rich in natural beauty, waves and sea garden which is suitable for diving.

Some of the most beautiful Aceh tourism and historical sites and beaches have been damaged by the massive earthquake and Dec '04 Tsunami.

Good places to visit: The Baiturrahman Great Mosque, Banda Aceh Tsunami Museum, Aceh State Museum, The Graves of Sultan Iskandar Muda and of Teungku Syiah Kuala, Salahuddin Graveyard in Bitay or Turkey village, Ujong Batee and Lampuuk Beaches.

Tjut Nyak Dien Museum, Rubiah Sea Garden, Simpang Balok Hot Water Pool, Linga Isaag Hunting Area, Gunung Leuser National Park, Cakra Donya Bell, remains of the Samudra Pasai Kingdom and Teungku Chik Di Tiro Heros Cemetery.

Aceh for Nature and Outdoor Lovers Arrive in Medan, travel from Medan to the jungle resort of Bukit Lawang from there you can go to the more remote Tangkahan.

From Tangkahan travel to the mysterious Danau Laut Tawar near Takengon were you can hike and climb some spectacular volcanoes.

Or take the scenic way from Medam through the mountains with a first stop in Berastagi to visit an active volcano and bath in hot springs and then via a jungle trip in Ketambe to see wild Orangutan on to Takengon.

From Takengon you can travel to Banda Aceh. There you can visit some great beaches and mountain biking and hiking. Banda Aceh is also the place to get a ferry to Sabang or Pulau Weh where you can dive and snorkle.

Fantastic diving on Pulau Weh called Sabang by the locals, the name of the city on the island. If you're certified, expect to pay €25 for your first dive, €20 for every dive afterward.

Aceh is also great for hiking and mountain biking and bicycling.

Surfing is great at Lok'na beach where you can also rent boards and do surfing courses. Also in nearby Lampuuk 3km NE of Lok'na a variety of beachside and mountain recreational attractions and activities is developing very rapidly.

Many restaurants and fresh seafood stalls have been established since 2008, with some of the restaurants providing very affordable accommodation, some with panoramic views of the mountains, beaches and seaside area.

Arab, Persian, and Indian traders influenced food in Aceh although flavours have changed to be little like their original form.

Amongst these are curry dishes known as kare or gulai, which are rich, coconut-based dishes traditionally made with beef, goat, fish or poultry, but are now also made with tofu, vegetables, and jackfruit.

Popular Acehenese food includes roti cane and mie Aceh.

New restaurants and seafood stalls are popping up all the time in the local Lhoknga and lampuuk seaside areas of Banda Aceh as the local economy develops.

The insurgency may be officially over, but Aceh remains a somewhat unsettled place, with a rate of violent crime partly political, partly not exceeding most of the rest of the archipelago.

In November 2009, a German Red Cross worker was shot in broad daylight in Banda Aceh.

Homosexuality is illegal and punishable by caning.

LGBT individuals should avoid travel to Aceh

Tourism Observer

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