Banda Aceh Authorities Arrest Punk Rock Concertgoers for 'Moral Rehabilitation'

The World

Police shaved off the hair of about 60 fans who were arrested at a punk concert. (Photo: Youtube screenshot)

Manya Gupta

In Banda Aceh, a dozen young people are having a ukulele jam session beneath the lights of a basketball court. In Aceh's capital city, unmarried men and women aren't supposed to congregate after 9 p.m., but that hasn't stopped a few girls from joining in. Like the boys, they favor Chuck Taylors, patched jeans and band T-shirts. A guy named Taufik said they may call themselves punks, but they're not doing anything wrong. "We're not breaking Sharia by being punk. It's just how we dress. We're not whores, we're not gay, and we're not corruptors," Taufik said. Aceh is the only province in Indonesia governed by Sharia or Islamic law. Aceh's government adopted Sharia in 2005, shortly after gaining some political autonomy from Jakarta. Now some critics say the local government is going too far. Case in point is a police raid on a punk rock concert in Banda Aceh in late December. Authorities arrested 65 concertgoers. They shaved off the punks' hair and threw them into a pond for symbolic cleansing. Police held them for 10 days for "moral rehabilitation." Taufik now has stubble covering his head. So does Yudi – both were among the dozens who were shaved in the mass arrest. "The police punched us and stomped on us," Yudi said. "We were treated like animals. It hurt a lot because we didn't know what we did wrong." The police deny using violence. And Yudi and the others were never actually charged with a crime. Still, many in Banda Aceh view the punks with suspicion. A lot of the punks live on the streets. Yudi concedes some of them are involved in drugs, but he said it's not fair to assume all of them are drug users. Banda Aceh's deputy Mayor Illiza Sa'aduddin Djamal, who wears pink lipstick and a bejeweled headscarf, said the punks are a threat to Aceh's Islamic values. She describes the arrests as a form of tough love. "The law says every homeless child should be taken care of by the country. We can define the punks as homeless because they sleep everywhere and rarely take a bath. As a mother I will feel very bad if I see my child live like that," Illiza said. The raid wasn't the city's first crackdown on the punks, but it was the largest. In the past, only locals were arrested. But this time, most of the people detained came from more secular parts of Indonesia. Illiza insists that visitors have to abide by Aceh's rules and norms. "Perhaps our freedom is different from other places," she said. "But we are in Banda Aceh." Now that they've been released, the local punks are expected to continue their rehabilitation, with job skill training. Illiza insists the young men are grateful for the opportunity. But Reza Idria scoffs at the idea that Aceh's punks are embracing their re-education. "They say that all of punks are happy now," said Reza. Reza used to play guitar in a band. Now he teaches Islamic law at the state university. He rejects the idea that Aceh's punks are somehow anti-Islam. He said government officials are interpreting Islamic law to justify their actions. "The way they treat punks, they never used any law, just put them in the pool and shaved them. We don't have a law like that, but they did it. And this is the government," Reza said. The truth is, said Reza, many Acehnese think the punks are a public nuisance, and with regional elections coming up, the government crackdown may have been an effort to score points on a winning issue.
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