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Crackdown on punks in Indonesia

Some who see punks as a welcome challenge to the conservative form of Islamic law in Aceh worry that the crackdown is working too well.

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In his canary yellow t-shirt and skinny jeans Banu Prasdana looks like an ordinary Indonesian kid. But last year when he sported more than a dozen piercings and a Mohawk and wandered Banda Aceh's streets playing rock ballads on his guitar he had a canny ability to unnerve the local police, who considered him a menace to a social order governed by strict Islamic law.

Now he and a group of other 20-somethings have dialed back their image and spend Saturday nights in Aceh's provincial capital in a park trying to look inconspicuous. Some are jobless and without homes, some come to the park to chill with friends late into the night, a common practice here.

Officials say they drink, use drugs, and disturb others by not showering and appearing sloppy. They're just exploiting their freedom of expression and disrespecting Aceh province's conservative morals, says Police Chief Iskandar Hasan.

But Prasdana says the police misunderstand them. People need to see beyond the way they dress, he explains, referring to a recent charity concert they hosted to raise money for flood victims. Their aim is more about highlighting discrimination and social inequality.  “Being a punk is not about [just] freedom, but rebellion; a struggle against injustice.”   

But as the battle between the conservative authorities and Aceh’s punks has heated up, many of them have gone into hiding, which worries some who see the punks as a welcome challenge to the form of Islamic law adopted in Aceh. 

The danger of challenging conservativism

In a province where alcohol is outlawed, unmarried couples are not allowed alone together after dark and women’s dress is strictly dictated by law, being a punk has a much broader definition than it does in other places of the world. For many, it is a form of revolt against the government’s interpretation of sharia law, which they say is merely a means of restricting expression.

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