For decades Indonesia has been held up as an example of a moderate Islamic nation, but in recent years there’s been a tilt toward theocratic excesses: Today, two men who were convicted of homosexuality were caned 83 times.
It’s first reported case of caning being used to punish homosexuality: Some 3,000 people reportedly turned out for the event, held outside Syuhada mosque in Aceh, which has been governed by Sharia law since 2005. (Warning: This video may be disturbing to some readers.)
Lashings are carried out by hooded officers called “algojos” using a rattan cane. It’s incredibly painful and often leaves permanent scars.
“With each blow, the skin softened and the pain grew and grew to the point that my whole back felt like it was on fire, recalled a British man subjected to a caning in Qatar. Convicted of consuming alcohol, Gavin Sherrard-Smith was only sentenced to 40 lashes. “I didn’t realize the human body could generate and tolerate such pain. At about 20 I lost count because I was in too much pain.”
But the emotional scars can run even deeper. “The strikes themselves are often the easiest part,” explains psychology professor Jan Kizilhan. “The humiliating memories are burned into the mind, and this leads to a feeling of powerlessness.”
Being on public display, he adds, contributes to the degradation and a loss of faith in their community.
The men beaten today, ages 23 and 20, were in arrested in March after neighbors barged into their room and detained them while police arrived. Video of their capture went viral—depicting one of them, naked and terrified, calling his family for help.
Up to 100 lashes are allowed for a variety of offenses in Aceh, including gambling, drinking alcohol, wearing of tight clothes by women, men skipping prayer services, and even cockfighting. Caning can be applied to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The two men were actually sentenced to 85 lashes, but two were removed because they had already served two months in prison.
The beatings started at 9am and finished four hours later, CNN reports, with four other couples also caned for being intimate outside of marriage.
More than 90% of Indonesia’s 255 million citizens identify as Muslim and, while homosexuality is not illegal outside of Aceh, anti-gay animus has taken root nationwide: In 2016, police attempted to ban Grindr and other hookup apps and, just last week, more than 140 men were arrested at a gay sauna in Jakarta.
Religious leaders and groups like the National Child Protection Commission have been pushing to criminalize same-sex activity.
“Our country has legalized fornication, male rape, and homosexual acts,” Professor Hamid Chalid, a constitutional law expert at the University of Jakarta, testified last August. “We’ve allowed our constitution to become too liberal. Is that what we want?”