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Crackdown on punks in Indonesia

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“People are not resisting sharia in a religious sense, but as a legal product,” says Reza Idria, a lecturer of Islamic political philosophy at Aceh’s Syiah Kuala University.

He was once a punk in the late 1990s, and still wears the smallest hint of a spike in his hair. The punk movement today is not unlike it was then, he says, estimating that there are around 200 punks broken into smaller groups that rival one another. 

What they share is the belief that sharia has become a political tool, used by the authorities to appeal to conservative voters. But to many in this conservative Islamic province, not accepting the terms of sharia means you are against your religion, says Idria. “So it’s difficult, it’s dangerous.”

That danger was made real last December, when sharia police arrested 65 punks during a charity concert for which they allegedly did not receive a permit. Prasdana, who had ditched his Mohawk shortly before the arrests, says several of his friends were among those caught in the dragnet and taken to a police “re-education camp.”

Over a 10-day period police forced the youths to shave their heads, bathe together in a lake and say daily prayers as part of what they called moral rehabilitation. Human rights groups cried foul over their treatment, which also drew criticism from international punk communities.

“I felt sorry when it happened,” says Prasdana, calling the arrests a misunderstanding. “Some people think we look naughty, or like bad boys. That’s why they can’t accept us.”

Authorities insist the punks often steal, drink liquor, or disturb people by appearing unkempt and threatening.

“They don’t just disturb society, they have no morals,” says Hasan, the police chief. That’s why they need discipline and “rebuilding.”

Sharia in Aceh

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