Commentary: The Myth of Voluntary Surrendering to Islamic Law: An Analysis of the Lashing of Non-Muslims Under the Acehnese Islamic Criminal Law

This commentary, by Waskito Jati, criticizes the prevailing opinion that non-Muslims who have been lashed in public after violating Islamic criminal law in Aceh have voluntarily surrendered to Islamic law after being given the choice of prosecution under Acehnese Qanun Jinayat, the Indonesian penal code. Article 5 (C) of the Qanun contradicts this opinion by stating that all acts not penalized by the Indonesian penal code shall be prosecuted under Acehnese Islamic law even when the perpetrator is a non-Muslim. In analyzing the issue, this commentary discusses the lashing of a Christian woman who was accused of selling alcohol in 2016.


The sharīʿa police in Aceh have been known to claim that non-Muslims who have been publicly lashed for violating the new Acehnese Islamic Criminal Code (Aceh Qanun Jinayat)[1] had voluntarily surrendered themselves to its jurisdiction.[2] To make this claim, the police point to the possibility that non-Muslims may choose to be prosecuted under the Indonesian Penal Code.[3] But upon further reading of the provisions in the Aceh Criminal Code, it is apparent that such an option is not in fact available due to a contradiction in its Article 5. This essay will examine the first case of a lashing of a Christian woman convicted of selling alcohol in 2016 to see how these contradiction played out and affected the non-Muslim community.

In 2016, Remita Sinaga, also known by her nickname as Mak Ucok, was a 60-year-old Christian grandmother living in Takengon, Central Aceh. She was formally indicted by the public prosecutor on 16 March 2016 after the police found her keeping stock of around seventy bottles of alcohol in her home.[4] This action violates the Aceh Criminal Code’s Article 16, which punishes anyone who produces, keeps stock, or sells alcohol with a maximum of 60 lashes or payment of 600 grams of pure gold, or imprisonment for a maximum of 60 months.[5] In a surprising turn of events, the judge at the Takengon Sharīʿa Court pronounced her guilty and ordered her to be punished with 30 lashes in public, 5 times more than the initial demand from the public prosecutor.[6] Sinaga was then lashed in front of a community center building in Takengon while a thousand spectators watched.[7]

When asked about Sinaga’s lashing, Lili Suparli, the head of the intelligent department of the district attorney in Takengon, said that, because Sinaga committed a crime that involved Muslim citizens, she had the choice to be prosecuted using either the Indonesian Penal Code or the Aceh Criminal Code.[8] This statement is her interpretation of Aceh Criminal Code Article 5(B), which states that the Code applies to non-Muslims under two conditions: the involvement of Acehnese Muslims and the voluntary surrender of the non-Muslim perpetrators to the Acehnese Criminal Code’s jurisdiction.[9] Suparli assumed that the word “voluntary” in the article implies the option of not surrendering to the jurisdiction of the Aceh Criminal Code. In fact, this understanding is the basis of many assumptions that non-Muslims have been lashed under Aceh Qanun Jinayat have voluntarily surrendered to sharīʿa.[10] But have they?

Suparli’s interpretation could have had merit had it not been directly contradicted by the next point in the same article. . . .

Read the commentary.