Indonesia province orders men and women to stay apart in public places, vehicles

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Authorities in Indonesia’s ultra-conservative Aceh province have ordered men and women not immediately related or married to stay apart in vehicles and public places, the local government said Thursday as it seeks to tighten Islamic law.

Aceh, located on the northern tip of Sumatra island, is the only province in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country that imposes Islamic law.

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Authorities told civil servants and members of the public of the opposite sex who have no family relations “not to gather in public spaces, quiet places, as well as in vehicles,” according to a circular issued last week.

It was issued as part of efforts to “shape a generation that faithfully adheres to Islamic values in their daily lives” by Indonesia’s 100th independence anniversary in 2045, Aceh government spokesperson Muhammad MTA told AFP on Thursday.

“The Aceh generations will not only be capable of competing globally but also capable of maintaining Islam which is integrated into the customs, culture and everyday life of the people of Aceh.”

Muhammad said the new order was a “preventative” move by the local government after it consulted Islamic clerics.

The consequences for breaching the order were unclear.

Despite criticism, public whipping is a common punishment for a range of offences in the province including gambling, alcohol consumption and relations outside marriage.

Aceh was given the right to implement Sharia law under broad autonomy granted by Jakarta in 2001.

“Khalwat” or “close proximity” is also punishable under Aceh’s religious law, which bars Muslims from being alone with members of the opposite sex before marriage.

Indonesia more broadly recognizes six major religions and endorses a tolerant version of Islam.

But conservative forms of Islam have become more popular in the country since the fall of the dictator Suharto, who kept the country running along secular lines, in the late 1990s.

A Muslim preacher was arrested in West Java province last week on charges including blasphemy after his boarding school allowed women to preach and pray beside men.

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