On November 11, villagers on an Indonesian island attacked a man and a woman, forcing them to partially strip and then making them parade down the street. A video of the public humiliation went viral in the country. The villagers said that the couple were behaving “immorally” – but police don’t agree. Our Observer says that locals taking it upon themselves to act as morality police is quite a common occurrence in Indonesia.
It happened in the village of Kadu, located in the administrative subdivision of Tangerang in Bantén province, west of Jakarta. In one of the videos, one can see a woman in a T-shirt and a thong, with bare legs, being escorted by a man holding her by the arm. A few metres away, a man is sitting in his underwear, being harassed by two people.
Several men are filming the scene with their mobile phones. Some of them shout, “Hit them, burn them, show us what you were doing!” The woman screams repeatedly, “Don’t hit us, don’t do that!”
The man holding the woman by the arm starts to pull off her T-shirt, with the help of another man. The woman tries to fight them off but is soon almost entirely naked.
Next to her, the man in his underwear is squatting on the floor with his head in his hands. One of the attackers pushes the woman at him. He manages to get up and helps the woman pull her T-shirt back on.
At the end of the video, the man helps the woman to put her T-shirt back on. Screen grab blurred by FRANCE 24.
According to Indonesian media, the man and woman were forced to parade down the street in punishment for their “immoral acts”. They were also threatened and hit by their attackers.
Six men arrested
After these videos were published online, Tangerang police arrested six men believed to have been involved in the attack, one of whom was a neighbourhood leader. Police said that the men could be tried for violence, which could result in up to five and a half years of prison, or even nine years if the victims have bad injuries, according to the Indonesian penal code. Although the couple were injured in the attack, it is unknown whether they were badly hurt.
The police also announced that they had created a working group to try and find the people who had initially posted the videos on the internet.
The sheer violence of the attack shocked a lot of Indonesians – even more so because the police declared afterwards that the man and the woman were engaged and had committed no “immoral act”. According to The coconuts the man had simply come over to the woman’s house for dinner, before going to brush his teeth in the bathroom – fully-clothed. It was at that moment that the men burst into the woman’s house to catch them.
These are some of the shocked responses to the incident by Indonesians on social media.
"If a man and a woman do something intimate, it’s not punishable according to the Indonesian penal code"
Miko Ginting lives in the south of Jakarta. He’s a researcher at the "Indonesian Center of Law and Policy Studies" and is the head of the penal law department at the Indonesia Jentera law school.
This type of punishment is unacceptable according to Indonesian law. First of all, people can’t investigate or mete out justice themselves; that’s the police’s role, or that of a judge or prosecutor.
If a man and a woman do intimate things, it’s not punishable according to the Indonesian penal code. There is only one exception: if one of them is already married and their spouse files an official complaint, an investigation can be opened and it could lead to up to nine months in prison.
However, there are sometimes local laws that have specific clauses relating to these kinds of intimate situations. This is the case in Aceh province, for example, where Sharia law is partially applied.
According to Indonesian media, people accused of adultery or caught at an intimate moment with someone that they’re not married to are often punished by being paraded in the street. This happens in particular in rural areas. It’s rare that the attackers will be punished.
"Some villagers see themselves as the ‘keepers of good morals’"
There have been many other instances of this kind of vigilante morality police. In August, a widower was stripped and forced to parade down the street in the Ponorogo subdivision in Java, because he was apparently seeing a married woman. In the last few months, locals have also burst in on couples to catch them in a sexual act in Tuban, in Java, and also in Riau, in Sumatra. Sometimes couples are forced to admit what they’ve done, or if they are a young couple, they are dragged in front of their parents.
I think that some locals act like this because they see themselves as the ‘keepers of good morals’. Or because they don’t trust the law to get involved and do something about it.
The police usually don’t bother those people who carry out these attacks on couples, presumably because they think they’ve upheld good morals, or because the community will defend them. This time, the Tangerang police arrested people, but it’s surely only because videos of the attack went viral.