Two gay men accused of having sex are sentenced to 85 public lashings each in Indonesian province

ReutersA policeman holds a rifle as he stands guard in front of a burned church at Suka Makmur Village in Aceh, Indonesia. Tow men in the highly conservative province have been sentenced to 85 lashings each over claims of homosexual sex.

Two gay men accused in Indonesia of having sex with one another were both sentenced yesterday to 85 lashes in public.

The case is the first of people being punished for homosexuality in the highly conservative province of Aceh under a strict version of Sharia law.

Human rights activists called the punishment excessive and a dangerous turn of events in the province.

Local reports said that vigilantes had caught the two men naked in bed together, and that the pair had pleaded not to be reported to the Shariah police.

Then, in an attack recorded on video, the two men were then beaten before being taken to a local police station.

There, the chief investigator for the Shariah police, Marzuki Ali was recorded asking the men, aged 20 and 23: 'So you don't like women? Not interested in them any more?'

Homosexuality has been illegal in Aceh since 2014, but this is the first time citizens have been punished for it.

One hundred lashes is the maximum sentence for the supposed crime, but the court sentenced the men to 85 each after they apologised for their actions.

According to Human Rights Watch, a total of 339 people were caned in Aceh in 2016 on charges of moral indecency.

The sentencing coincided yesterday with the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.

Homosexuality is legal in most of Indonesia, with Aceh being the only province in the country that has formally adopted Shariah.

However, a nationwide campaign by conservative civil society groups against homosexuality has culminated in a major case that is currently before the country's Constitutional Court, which will decide whether sex outside marriage should be banned throughout Indonesia.

Such a ban would effectively make homosexual sex illegal, as Indonesia has not legalised gay marriage.

Dede Oetomo, a veteran Indonesian gay rights campaigner, said that Acehnese activists were 'all scared'.

Indonesia has a highly decentralised structure of government, with local and provincial governments sometimes adopting laws that are far more conservative than that of the national government.

In 2001, the Indonesian government granted Aceh a special right to impose a legal code based on the Koran, as part of a long-term effort to make peace with the leaders of an Islamic insurgency there.

A number of Christian churches have been burned down by Islamic extremists in Aceh in recent years.