The Mohawk Crusade: Punks and Sharia Law in Indonesia

James Balowski
The Mohawk Crusade: Punks and Sharia Law in Indonesia (Photo:

A group of music lovers organising a charity concert in Indonesia's northern-most province of Aceh found themselves the victims of the province's discriminatory and abusive Sharia by-laws. The youths – some of whom had come from as far as Jakarta and West Java – were arrested on the evening of 10 December 2011. Their crime was to organise a punk music charity concert titled "Aceh for the Punk" at the city's cultural centre to raise money for orphans.

Regular and Sharia police stormed the venue, rounding up anyone sporting Mohawks, tattoos, tight jeans or chains. They assaulted several people in the raid. After being held for three nights by local police – during which time they were denied access to legal representation and family members – detainees were transferred to the Aceh State Police School for "re-education".

"First their hair will be cut. Then they will be tossed into a pool. That'll teach them a lesson!" said Aceh police chief inspector, Iskandar Hasan, describing the punishment that awaited them. Hasan denied the punishment constituted a breach of human rights. "We'll change their disgusting clothes. We'll replace them with nice clothes. We'll give them toothbrushes, toothpaste, shampoo, sandals and prayer gear. It will all be given to them."

True to his word, upon arrival at the camp, the men's heads were shaved while the women's hair was cut short in the fashion of a female police officer. The punks were then forced to bathe in a lake, change their clothes and pray. Twenty-year-old Juanda, a member of the Rebel's Dam punk community since 2008, managed to escape arrest by wearing a helmet to hide his punk hairstyle. But he saw the whole thing. "They were beaten up like animals," he said. "It broke my heart to see how my friends were beaten up like that. I could not do anything to help because the officers were armed and they moved really fast. They pulled my friends' hair and dragged them."

This was not the first time that punks have been targeted by Aceh's Sharia police. In February 2011, a group of youths were arrested and held for rehabilitation and religious indoctrination. Police claimed they were a public nuisance, accusing them of being involved in theft, brawls and assaults.

Despite being detained for 10 days, none were ever charged. The same thing happened to the 64 people arrested in December. Despite being detained illegally for two weeks, none were formally charged or brought before a court.


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