An Islamic Shariah court in Indonesia's conservative Aceh province has sentenced two gay men to public caning for the first time, further undermining the country's moderate image after a top Christian politician was imprisoned for blasphemy. The court, whose sentencing Wednesday coincided with International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, said the men, aged 20 and 23, would each receive 85 lashes for having sexual relations, the AP reports. One of the men wept as his sentence was read out and pleaded for leniency. The couple was arrested after neighborhood vigilantes in the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, suspected them of being gay and broke into their rented room to catch them having sex.
International human rights groups described the treatment of the men as abusive and humiliating and called for their immediate release. "The prosecution is very harsh. The verdict is harsher," said Andreas Harsono, Indonesia researcher for Human Rights Watch. Aceh is the only province in Muslim-majority Indonesia allowed to practice Shariah law, which was a concession made by the national government in 2006 to end a war with separatists. Homosexuality is legal elsewhere in Indonesia, but a case before the country's top court is seeking to criminalize gay sex and sex outside marriage. (Read more Indonesia stories.)