THIRTY-SEVEN-year-old Sharmila gets teary and a bit scared when asked about the syariah sentence for her husband Agussalim M. Yamin. He is to be caned five times in public for a gambling offence.
“He was caught somewhere else and my neighbours and other villagers don’t know about it,” she says in her home in her village in Lhoksemauwe.
Her husband drives a trishaw and Sharmila runs a small shop in the village to make ends meet.
She hoped word would never get out in the village that her husband was caught gambling because they have nowhere to go and fear public humiliation.
“I don’t know how much the amount was because I didn’t want to ask. I only advised him not to do it again,” she says.
In fact, they managed to keep it so quiet that even their new village head Ibnu Agus did not know about the offence and sentence.
But the thing is Agussalim was caught for the offence about two years ago and was sentenced to public caning by the Syariah Court on Aug 13, 2012. The sentence has yet to be executed.
In fact, none of those who have been sentenced to public caning by the Syariah Court in Lhokseumawe in the past two years have had their sentences carried out.
Most of the other districts in Aceh – except for Langsa - have also not executed the sentences in the last two years.
But it is not for lack of desire to do so. The main reason is a lack of funds.
Edwardo from the Attorney’s Office in Lhoksemauwe admits there were problems in the implementation of the syariah sentences.
“For one thing, there is no detention order for syariah offences which means the offender walks away scot free.
“And he might not show up in the syariah court for the sentencing. Or if he does, then after the sentence is meted out, it takes a while before it can be executed and during this time, the offender might move or run away. When the authorities want to execute the sentence, they can’t find him,” he says.
Then there is the question of cost for the public caning.
“The Syariah Court just hands out the sentence. It is not its business to look into whether there are funds to carry it out. Money is needed for a public caning because it is a ceremony. They need to erect a stage, rent chairs for the officers, pay the person who is doing the caning. There is no allocation or budget here for it,” he says.
Kuala Syiah Law lecturer Saifuddin Bantasyam estimates that the cost for public caning was around seven million to 10mil rupiah (RM1,998 to RM2,854).
This is because apart from erecting the stage and renting the seats, provisions also have to be made for security and for a medical officer to be on standby to examine the person before and after the caning.
“The government has no money for the execution of the sentences so those sentenced go free, especially at the district level, because the case goes to the district authority and there are no funds.”
Edwardo says changes were made in Aceh’s Syariah Law Qanun Jinayat 2013 recently which would allow for detention.
“But this would also incur costs because if you detain an offender, then you have to provide him with meals. All this adds up,” he says.
The syariah law in Aceh is confined to three offences – gambling, drinking alcohol and khalwat/zina (close proximity/adultery).
While the other provinces have been rather sluggish in carrying out public caning, Langsa, which is only 171km from Medan, stands out for executing a high number of its public caning sentences.
It carried out 13 public canings in 2012 and four in 2013.
Asrul, a journalist in Langsa who has covered the canings, says thousands, including women and children, turn up to see it.
The whole square would be packed, he says.