Draft law on Indonesia's Aceh province to impose Islamic law on all residents

Jakarta, Indonesia - A bill proposed by lawmakers on the tsunami-ravaged Indonesian province of Aceh would impose Shariah, or Islamic law, on all non-Muslims, the military and police, a local law enforcement official said.

Sharia took effect last year in Aceh, a predominantly Muslim region on the northernmost tip of Sumatra island. It banned drinking, gambling, adultery and other behavior deemed immoral under Islam. But it had only applied to Muslims.

The latest bill, submitted to the national parliament for debate, is expected to be adopted by the 550-seat house by the summer after facing initial resistance.

"Based on the equality in law, Acehnese people have formally proposed ... to apply the Islamic Shariah Law to all those residing in Aceh, including military, police and non-Muslims," said Alyasa Abubakar, head of a local government office which enforces the Shariah on Aceh.

"We leave it to the parliament whether to accept or reject the Acehnese people's proposal," Abubakar said last week. "I personally feel that it is not fair to apply the Islamic Sharia only to Muslims."

Abdullah Saleh, deputy chairman of the parliamentary commission handling the draft, said the change still "protects the non-Muslims' freedom to perform their religious duties."

With 220 million inhabitants, Indonesia is home to more Muslims than any other nation, but is a secular state where people follow a moderate form of the faith.

The draft will almost certainly harm delicate relations with other religions, in a country where Christian-Muslim violence has claimed the lives of thousands in recent years.

Although around 97 percent of the population is Muslim, Aceh is also home to Hindus, Buddhists and Christians.

Aceh was the single worst-hit Asian coastline in the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami which claimed the lives of some 130,000.