By Hidayatullah Tahjuddin
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (Reuters) - Authorities in Indonesia’s Aceh province publicly caned six people accused of breaching Islamic law, including two men who received 77 lashes for having a same sex relationship, in a punishment Human Rights Watch called "public torture".
Aceh is the only province in majority-Muslim Indonesia to follow Islamic law, and this was the third such caning since Aceh outlawed homosexuality in 2014. The province, on the northern tip of Sumatra island, also imposes caning for crimes such as theft, gambling and adultery.
A hooded religious police officer carried out Thursday's floggings, watched by a crowd wearing face masks. One of the men grimaced in pain as he received the punishment, which caused his mother to faint.
Two other people received 40 lashes for alcohol consumption and another two 17 lashes for adultery.
Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher for Human Rights Watch, condemned the canings and the homophobic attitudes displayed by some in Aceh, a deeply conservative society where lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people are ostracised and targeted by the authorities.
"If Indonesia is to be considered a civilized country... the government must stop the practice of torture in Aceh" and immediately review how Islamic law has been integrated into regional regulations, he said.
Opinions among Acehnese are a still a world away for any tolerance of LGBT communities. Devi Arinah, a 53-year-old teacher, said she backed caning for homosexual acts but in addition felt people should be "given counseling so that they realize that their actions are not suitable for us as believers."
Another resident, 17-year-old Teguh Khosul said that if caning did not alter behaviour then either a cleric should help "rehabilitate" gay people in a religious way or be cast out from society.
(Additional reporting by Heru Asprihanto in Jakarta; Writing by Ed Davies; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)