A video has emerged of a group of people in a village in Indonesia dragging a young man and his girlfriend out of his home, forcing them in front of a sewer drain and then dumping waste water on their heads. This public humiliation took place on March 7 in the Indonesian province of Aceh.

The two victims were accused of being alone together in a room despite being unmarried, which is forbidden by sharia law, an Islamic law code which is enforced in Aceh, a northern province on the island of Sumatra. While an official morality police force called the Wilayatul Hisbah is responsible for enforcing these laws in the region, it is often civilians who take it upon themselves to enforce them.

Several men used smartphones to film the public humiliation that took place in Kayee Lee, a village in the administrative subdivision of Ingin Jaya. The footage shows a young man wearing jeans and a brown T-shirt sitting in front of a sewer drain with his head bowed. Next to him sits a young woman wearing a headscarf and clutching a pink bag. The crowd heckles the two victims.

"What you did is against Islam! This should serve as a lesson for you!” some shout.

Then, one of the young men in the crowd dumps a bucket of wastewater on the couple (photo below).

Screengrab of a video that was widely shared on social media in Indonesia.

When the police arrived on the scene a few minutes later, they let the young couple wash off in a nearby stream, then brought them to the police station where the morality police are headquartered.

Screengrab of a video showing the young couple washing off in a stream.

When questioned by the local press, Ingin Jaya’s Chief of Police, Nazarul Fitra, said that the girl, who is 18, went over to her boyfriend’s house, who was home alone. The neighbours thought they were probably there to have sex outside of marriage and forced them out of the house.

The chief of police said that the couple were taken to the headquarters of the morality police, who will carry out an investigation to determine if they did engage in the crime of “promiscuity". In Aceh province, this crime (known as khalwat) is punishable by 100 lashes with a cane and a fine equivalent to 150 grams of gold or, if they can’t pay, 15 months in prison.

"It’s really dangerous to let people act however they want”

Our Observer, a human rights activist in Aceh province, is worried that the authorities aren’t keeping a check on these community groups that take it upon themselves to enforce their vision of morality. For security reasons, our Observer wanted to remain anonymous.

“The people who humiliated the couple didn’t get in trouble at all. The police didn’t criticise these people, even though they entered a private home illegally and humiliated the couple in public.

Even though there is an official religious police force, there are more and more of these civilian groups that proclaim themselves enforcers of morality.

This event got a lot of media coverage because it was filmed by residents and widely shared on social media. But not a week goes by when there isn’t a group of zealous residents that take it upon themselves to enforce virtue.

As recently as March 12, a group of civilians descended on a hair salon run by a transgender person. They captured the manager and a customer who they accused of being a prostitute. The two victims were later brought to the offices of the morality police.

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In 2011, the Indonesian government granted Aceh province a special autonomous status that allows it to enforce sharia law. But even though it is the only province where Islamic law is officially applied, it’s not the only place in Indonesia where civilian groups band together to enforce their vision of virtuous behavior.

In October 2017, villagers in Banten province made the news for forcing a couple suspected of having sex outside of marriage to walk down the street half-naked.
Article written with

Djamel Belayachi , Journaliste