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Islamic moral drive spreads fear in Indonesia


By Mark Forbes Herald Correspondent and Karuni Rompies in Jakarta

March 11, 2006

LILIS LINDAWATI finished waitressing at 8pm and was waiting for a bus when the men in brown shirts came. Five jumped from the back of a ute and forced her into a nearby van.

The frightened, three-months-pregnant mother of two was about to become another casualty of Indonesia's escalating morality war. Her crime: she was female, alone and wearing make-up. A tube of lipstick sealed her fate.

New bylaws championed by the ambitious mayor of Tangerang, a satellite city on Jakarta's outskirts, aim to drive out gamblers, drunks and prostitutes. They are enforced by a small army of "public order officers" who cruise the streets, able to arrest anyone at whim.

The move has created a de facto curfew for women in Tangerang. If they are caught alone at night they must prove they are not prostitutes.

As well as banning "physical intimacy" in public places, a bylaw states a woman "who behaves suspiciously" on streets or in hotels, theatres, coffee shops - even private houses - will be jailed.

Tangerang is not the only regional administration to introduce bylaws reflecting sharia - Islamic law. And a proposed national anti-pornography law will ban public kissing and any clothing considered alluring. Baring a navel would earn a jail term.

Moderate Muslim organisations are supporting the changes, but intellectuals, feminists and artists are beginning to mobilise against what they believe is a hardline agenda to reshape Indonesia. This week, on International Womens Day, thousands of Indonesian women demonstrated against the morality campaign.

A fortnight ago, Mrs Lindawati, 36, was ignorant of the debate.

"For God's sake, I am not a prostitute. I am a good woman. I have a husband and I have children," she protested.

But the officers ignored pleas to call her family, jailing her overnight. The next morning she was hauled from a two-room cottage to go on trial in the forecourt of the palatial offices of the Mayor, Wahidin Halim, where a large crowd was celebrating the city's anniversary.

"Everybody was watching," said Mrs Lindawati. She told the judge, Barmen Sinurat, she was not a prostitute. He demanded she empty her handbag, which contained face powder and lipstick.

"Then the judge said, 'There is powder and lipstick in your bag. That means you're lying to say that you are a housewife,' " she recounted. "I am hurt, insulted, because people think I am a prostitute. Please don't blame me if I put on make-up. Many housewives today put on make-up, otherwise our husbands will go away for another woman."

Her request to call her husband, a teacher at the local state school, was again rejected.

Striking his gavel three times, Judge Sinurat pronounced: "You are guilty. You are prostitute." Unable to pay a $40 fine, Mrs Lindawati was jailed for three days.

Mr Wahidin, brother of the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Hassan Wirayuda, was unmoved by Mrs Lindawati's plight.

"She could not prove she is not a prostitute," he told the Herald. "It is true when my men arrested her she was not committing adultery, but why does she put on such make-up?"

What's more, said Mr Wahidin, she wore tight clothes and "a good girl would not stand in the street with that kind of dress".

"The point is we can tell someone is a prostitute or not … They stand in the street moving their body, waving their hands, trying to attract people, seducing." Mr Wahidin denies the changes are political. There are rumours he will stand for regional governor and his morality bylaws have won support from powerful, Islamic-orientated parties.

A legal aid activist, Astuti Listyaningrum, said the show trial of Mrs Lindawati and 26 others was an abuse of the legal process. "Of course they looked terrible, looked terrified. Not because they are prostitutes, but because they were nervous," she said.

Despite the support of her neighbours, Mrs Lindawati now refuses to venture out. Other women have begun carrying letters from their employers explaining they must work late.