A district in Aceh has banned Indonesian women and men from eating together unless they are related or married.
The sharia-run region on the northwest tip of Sumatra said the prohibition was being enforced to make women more “well-behaved”.
The Islamisation of the nominally secular archipelago will become an increasingly heated issue in the build-up to next year’s presidential election.
The rule says women in the Bireuën district will not be allowed to share a table with men unless they are with their spouse or a close male relative.
The order also warned firms against employing lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender staff.
The head of Bireuën district’s Islamic Affairs office, Jufliwan, told cafes and restaurants about the rule.
The directive is intended to enforce sharia law, which forbids “khalwat” or affection between unmarried people.
Jufliwan said: “Unmarried males and females who are not close relatives should not eat and drink at the same table, because it is sinful according to sharia law.
“The objective is to protect women’s dignity so they will feel more comfortable, more at ease, more well behaved and will not do anything that violates sharia law”.
Under the rules, women should not be served after 9pm unless they are with their spouse or a male relative.
The authorities said offenders would not be punished. Public canings are common in Aceh for residents who fall foul of the strict laws on homosexuality, premarital sex, drinking and gambling.
Aceh is the only Indonesian province which imposes sharia law, which was tolerated by the central government as a concession to end a prolonged civil war.
“It will make life more difficult for women and the local people in general, many of whom make a living working in myriad coffee shops and other eateries in Bireuen, which has a vibrant nightlife,” said Kautsar Yus of the provincial legislative council from the Aceh Party.
“This kind of thing will only cause indignation at home and abroad, creating the impression that Aceh is a sinister place, when in fact it is not the case,” he was quoted saying by BenarNews.
Kautsar said the directive would be hard to enforce and was unlikely to be obeyed as many youths often spent long spells at coffee shops.
More than 12 people were publicly flogged outside a mosque in front of crowds of hundreds in July for adultery, drinking or other violations of sharia law.
Two allegedly gay men accused of being gay were whipped 87 times, in the severest of all Aceh’s sharia punishments.
A public caning in Aceh. The region is suffering from repeated negative news coverage. Picture credit: YouTube