Aceh, the devoutly Islamic and semi-autonomous region of Indonesia, recently banned tight pants for women.  The government now requires women to wear skirts, is prohibiting shops from selling pants to women, and has even gone so far as to pass out 20,000 long skirts throughout the region.  Acehnese police have also been dispatched to find women who are violating the law (insert appropriate “fashion police” joke here); many women have been taken into police custody but were released after (and I’m not making this up…) being given fashion advice from Islamic preachers. 

While some may see this story as more humorous than dangerous, the reality is that this is part of an ever increasing militancy on the part of the Acehnese government which is now recognizing and enforcing Sharia law.   The AP reports

During raids Thursday, Islamic police caught 18 women traveling on motorbikes who were wearing traditional headscarves but were also dressed in jeans. Each woman was given a long skirt and her pants were confiscated. They were released from police custody after giving their identities and receiving advice from Islamic preachers. 

“I am not wearing sexy outfits, but they caught me like a terrorist only because of my jeans,” said Imma, a 40-year-old housewife who uses only one name. She argued that wearing jeans is more comfortable when she travels by motorbike.  Motorbikes are commonly used by both men and women in Indonesia.   “The rule applies only to Muslim residents in West Aceh,” Mansur told The Associated Press. “We don’t enforce it for non-Muslims, but are asking them to respect us.”

He said any shopkeepers caught violating restrictions on selling short skirts and jeans would face a revocation of their business licenses.  No merchants have been seen displaying jeans or tight clothing in stores in West Aceh district in recent weeks.  The regulation is the latest effort to promote strict moral values in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, where most of the roughly 200 million Muslims practice a moderate form of the faith.

It does not set out a specific punishment for violators, but says “moral sanctions” will be imposed by local leaders.  Mansur said women caught violating the ban more than three times could face two weeks in detention. 

Less humorous are the other Sharia laws that have been enacted such as a law making adultery punishable by stoning to death and a law which imposes prison sentences and public lashings for homosexuals.  Hopefully Indonesia will remain a secularly governed nation but this latest development in Sharia law enforcement is a troubling sign for the island nation.