The Mohawk Crusade

BY JAMES BALOWSKI
Feb 07, 2012

Indonesia: Punks are the latest victims of Aceh's Shariah bylaws.

1205 Demonstrating in solidarity for Aceh’s punks. PHOTO: Negasi A group of music lovers organising a charity concert in Indonesia's northern-most province of Aceh have found themselves the latest victims of the province's discriminatory and abusive Shariah bylaws. The youths – some of whom had come from as far as Jakarta and West Java – were arrested on the evening of 10 December 2011. Their crime was to organise a punk music charity concert titled ‘Aceh for the Punk’ at the city’s cultural centre to raise money for orphans.

Regular and Shariah police stormed the venue, rounding up anyone sporting mohawks, tattoos, tight jeans or chains. They assaulted several people in the raid. After being held for three nights by local police – during which they were denied access to legal representation and family members – detainees were transferred to the Aceh State Police School for ‘re-education’. ‘First their hair will be cut. Then they will be tossed into a pool. That’ll teach them a lesson!’ said Aceh police chief inspector, Iskandar Hasan, describing the punishment that awaited them. Hasan denied the punishment constituted a breach of human rights. ‘We’ll change their disgusting clothes. We'll replace them with nice clothes. We'll give them toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, sandals and prayer gear. It will all be given to them.’

True to his word, upon arrival at the camp, men’s heads were shaved while the women’s hair was cut short in the fashion of a female police officer. The punks were then forced to bathe in a lake, change their clothes and pray. Twenty-year-old Juanda, a member of the Rebel’s Dam punk community since 2008, managed to escape arrest by wearing a helmet to hide his punk hairstyle. But he saw the whole thing. ‘They were beaten up like animals’, he said. ‘It broke my heart to see how my friends were beaten up like that. I could not do anything to help because the officers were armed and they moved really fast. They pulled my friends’ hair and dragged them.’

This was not the first time that punks have been targeted by Aceh’s Shariah police. In February 2011, a group of youths were arrested and held for rehabilitation and religious indoctrination. Police claimed they were a public nuisance, accusing them of being involved in theft, brawls and assaults. Despite being detained for 10 days, none were ever charged. The same thing happened to the 64 people arrested in December. Despite being detained illegally for two weeks, none were formally charged or brought before a court.

Punk will never die

Banda Aceh deputy mayor Illiza Sa'aduddin Djamal – who describes punks as a ‘new social disease affecting Banda Aceh’ – defended the arrests and her ongoing crusade against the punk community, proudly explaining that she has supervised police raids at cafes and city parks. Not only does she claim that the 10 December concert would have been an abomination; she also claims that the organisers violated their permit, which was for a charity concert for orphanages. However, Illiza was unable to say how or if the authorities had been able to prove it was not a charity event.

According to Illiza, public places such as Taman Sari and the Tsunami Museum are becoming unattractive because the young people who frequent them don’t take regular baths and dressed shabbily. ‘Their morals are wrong. Men and women gather together, and that is against Islamic Shariah’, she said. ‘We will keep conducting raids until they’re all caught, then we'll bring them in for re-education. Aceh is a Shariah region.’ Aceh’s Governor Irwandi Yusuf also defended the move, insisting that it actually demonstrated the government's concern towards youth. ‘It was no charity concert for orphans’, he told journalists at the State Palace on 20 December. ‘It is untrue that the police arrested them. That’s not it. The truth is that the police are helping them develop.’ Irwandi said that there are around 700 punks in Aceh, most of whom lived in parks or on the side of roads, have no jobs, don’t go to school, do not pray and refuse to go home.

Moral conservative groups, which back the strict implementation of Shariah law in Aceh and have been pushing for its application in other parts of the country, also supported the authorities. The secretary of the Aceh Ulama Association, Faisal Ali, said in a statement that the local government should offer no place for punk communities to thrive, calling on local government to issue a bylaw that would ban punk communities in Aceh. The chair of the Aceh Association for Imams, Tarmizi Rasyid, even suggested that the detention period be extended to three months. Also backing the move was the notorious Islamic Defenders’ Front, which is known for vandalising Jakarta nightspots that fail to pay police protection money.

Several days into the re-education camp, a delegation from the Muslim cleric council delivered a religious lecture to the youths. But there was little sign of a mass conversion to religious piety. ‘Punk's not dead!’ shouted 18-year-old Andre after being forced back onto the truck after a compulsory visit to a nearby mosque at prayer time. Andre said he was sick of being re-educated, and that it was having no effect. ‘I'll still be a punk when they let me go’, he said. ‘It’s my chosen life.’ Efforts to restore moral values by having the punks march military-style for hours beneath the tropical sun wasn’t working, and the punks were showing no signs of bending. When camp commanders turn their backs, the detainees raised their fists and shouted, ‘Punk will never die!’

A flood of condemnation

Human rights groups have condemned the arrests. According to the executive director of the Aceh Human Rights Coalition, Evi Narti Zain, the police actions were violent and illegal. The Aceh Legal Aid Foundation worked hard to get the youths released. According to the Foundation’s director, Hospinovizal Sabri, they had broken no laws.

In Jakarta, M. Choirul Anam from the Indonesian rights group Imparsial said the police violated the youths’ freedom of expression, treated them in an inhuman manner in contravention of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Indonesia is a signatory) and denied the youths access to proper legal channels. Chair of the National Commission for Child Protection, Arist Merdeka Sirait scoffed at Djamal’s claim that punk is a ‘social disease’, slamming the detention without charge, the head shaving, the dousing ritual and the military-style treatment as breaches of human rights. In the opinion of Ahmad Suaedy, executive director of the Wahid Institute, the methods of the Shariah police were not in accordance with Islamic values.