Punk 'Re-Education' Not A Good Look For Aceh


When I was in kindergarten, my heart raced at the sight of a man with a bushy beard. He was the father of one of my classmates and was sitting perfectly comfortably, minding his own business. My four-year-old self was spooked by his appearance. Unsightly hair can look threatening, irrational as it is. Something similar happened when the Acehnese police and mayoralty saw strange thorn-shaped hair cuts and lots of piercings on punk kids over the weekend.

Indonesian media reported that police under the supervision of the Banda Aceh administration arrested on the weekend 64 punk youth who were gathering at a charity music concert for orphans. The police detained the men and women in a police camp 60 kilometres from of the city.

All the men were shaved and left with uniform bald heads. All the women had their hair cut into a bob in the style of a police woman. The men were then forced into the lake, reportedly for "spiritual" cleansing. The police plan to keep them for 10 days to "re-educate" them before releasing them. For those who are from Banda Aceh, the re-education will take longer than that. All this without a criminal charge and without being brought before a court.

If there is anyone who needs re-education in this scenario, it is the government and police, as they seem to be oblivious to the fact that they are acting against the law. "I’ll remind [police]not to breach human rights", the Aceh Police Chief, Iskandar Hasan, told the Jakarta Globe, while blatantly violating the fundamental human rights of freedom of arbitrary arrest and detention. The shaving of the youth’s heads is an assault on individual freedom and freedom of expression. And the dispersal of the punk youth during the charity concert event is against freedom of assembly. All these rights are protected under the international human rights law instruments, which Indonesia has ratified. They are protected under national laws as well.

The incarceration of these innocent people came not long after an internal report showed that up to a 1000 of Aceh’s 13,000 police officers tested positive to drug use. None of the officers were prosecuted as regular civilians would be.

Indonesia prides itself on being a diverse country living in harmony. Our national motto ‘Bhineka Tunggal Ika’ loosely translates from Sanskrit as Unity in Diversity. Yet, this remains an empty slogan as the reality in Aceh shows that the powers don’t welcome anything different from what they are used to.

The punk subculture in Indonesia has been around for two decades and its D-I-Y spirit has manifested in bands and zines. As any identity subculture, punk has a distinct style of fashion that is a statement against the establishment. This, apparently is regarded as "disgusting" by the police chief.

Aceh has been under Sharia for a decade now, following the grant of special autonomy status to appease the separatist movement. The deputy mayor of Banda Aceh, Illiza Sa’adudin Jamal, was quoted saying that the punk community was against Sharia law.

The Banda Aceh administration has said that they will continue the raids until all members of the punk community, which is estimated to number around 200, are caught. The abuse of power and persecution of innocent people will, moreover, bring a negative image to the province that has already received a bad rap, especially from human rights and women’s rights group, for the harsh implementation of Sharia law.

As for the punk community, the detention and the ongoing violation of their rights will only validate their suspicion of authority.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.