2 suspected lesbians in Indonesia to undergo rehabilitation

BANDA ACEH, INDONESIA:  Two suspected lesbians detained earlier this week by Islamic Shariah police in Indonesia's conservative Aceh province will undergo rehabilitation instead of being charged with a crime, a police chief said Saturday.

The women, 18 and 19 years old, were taken in for questioning Monday night by Sharia police officers who saw them sitting and hugging each other in Ulee Lheue, a coastal neighborhood in the capital, Banda Aceh, according to the Shariah police chief, Evendi Latief.

"They later confessed to be a lesbian couple and that was supported by pictures found on their handphones," Latief said.

The two women, identified only by the initials "AS" and "N," will not be charged because a new criminal code for Aceh that criminalizes homosexuality won't take effect until later this month, he said. Under that code, any person found guilty of homosexuality could face up to 100 cane lashes or a maximum fine of 1,000 grams of fine gold or imprisonment of up to 100 months. Indonesia's national criminal code doesn't regulate homosexuality.

"They will undergo rehabilitation which involves psychologists from local Social Ministry office," Latief said. The two were transferred to the regular police's Women and Child Protection Unit, he said.

Indonesia's central government granted Aceh the right to implement a version of Shariah law in 2006 as part of a peace deal to end a separatist war. People convicted of adultery, gambling and consuming alcohol already face caning, as well as women wearing tight clothes and men who skip Friday prayers.

Human Rights Watch called on Indonesian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release the two women. It said the women were arrested, contrary to the rights to nondiscrimination and fundamental freedoms under Indonesia's constitution and international human rights law.

"The arrest of two women in Aceh for everyday behavior is an outrageous abuse of police power that should be considered a threat to all Indonesians," said Graeme Reid, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights program director at New York-based Human Rights Watch. "The Indonesian government needs to press Aceh to repeal its discriminatory new by-laws."

Latief denied that the women were arrested and that their human rights were violated. He said they were held for four days for questioning and then handed over to the regular police.