Indonesia canes couples for showing affection in public

Indonesia's deeply conservative Aceh province today caned several unmarried couples for showing affection in public, and two women for prostitution, in front of an enthusiastic audience of hundreds.

The canings were possibly the last to be carried out before large crowds in Aceh after the province's governor announced earlier this month that the punishments would be moved indoors.

The caning last year of two men for gay sex before a baying mob drew attention to Aceh's increasingly harsh implementation of Shariah law and a wave of condemnation.

The women accused of prostitution were caned 11 times each.

One of the women held up her hand after the fifth lash, signalling the pain was too intense. She was given a drink and the strokes resumed despite her evident discomfort.

The six young people accused of flirtatious behaviour received between 11 and 22 strokes.

Shariah police wanted to convict them of adultery, which would have resulted in a greater number of lashes, but lacked enough witnesses.

Some residents of Aceh, the only province in Muslim-majority Indonesia to impose Shariah law, are opposed to having the canings performed inside prisons.

About a thousand people protested outside the Banda Aceh mayor's office on Thursday. They said hiding the canings would reduce the deterrent effect.

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