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Christian publicly flogged in Indonesia's Aceh province for selling sharia-banned alcohol

(Reuters/Beawiharta/File Photo)FILE PHOTO: An Indonesian man is publicly caned for having gay sex, in Banda Aceh, Aceh province, Indonesia May 23, 2017.

An Indonesian Christian was publicly whipped on Friday after he was caught selling alcohol, which is banned under sharia law in the conservative Aceh province.

Jono Simbolon grimaced in pain as he was whipped on the back with a rattan stick on a makeshift stage outside a mosque in Banda Aceh.

According to Channel News Asia, Simbolon was the third non-Muslim to be flogged publicly since Aceh began implementing Islamic law after it was granted special autonomy in 2001.

Muslims in Aceh are subject to the legal code known as the Qanun religious law but Non-Muslims who have been charged with crimes can choose to be prosecuted either under the national system or under the religious law.

Simbolon, who was arrested last October for selling illegal alcohol, received 36 lashes as a result of his decision to be prosecuted under the religious law. Chief prosecutor Erwin Desman surmised that the Christian man may have chosen a flogging to avoid a lengthy criminal prosecution.

A doctor had to check Simbolon's condition after 10 canings to determine if he was fit for the flogging to continue.

Seven other men and two women were also caned that day after Friday prayers for offenses, including pimping, prostitution and gambling.

A masked religious officer caned an unmarried couple 20 times each for being too physically close to each other, which is seen as a prelude to banned pre-marital sex.

"This is our government's commitment to enforcing Islamic law," Banda Aceh Mayor Aminullah Usman said, as reported by Channel News Asia. "If there is a violation (of the law) immediately report it to the sharia police and we will carry out a punishment like today's caning," he went on to say.

Last year, two gay men who admitted having gay sex were publicly lashed 100 times each in Aceh, drawing heavy criticism from rights groups. Gay sex, however, is not banned in the rest of the country, which mainly follows a criminal code inherited from former colonial ruler the Netherlands.

Aceh, which is the only province in Indonesia that implements sharia, was granted autonomy in an apparent attempt by the government in Jakarta to quell a long-running separatists insurgency. Islamic laws have been strengthened in the province since it struck a peace deal with Jakarta in 2005.

The 2005 peace deal granted Aceh the right to be the only Indonesian province to use Islamic sharia law as its legal code on the condition that the province remained part of the sprawling archipelago.

The legal code set out punishment for sex crimes, unmarried people engaging in displays of affection, people found guilty of adultery and underage sex. A number of those who were publicly flogged have collapsed on stage due to the severity of the injuries.

More than 90 percent of Indonesia's population of 255 million identify as Muslims, but the vast majority practice a moderate form of the faith.

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