Aceh region bans unmarried couples at same table in cafes

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (AP) — A district in Indonesia's deeply conservative Aceh province has banned unmarried couples from sitting at the same table in restaurants, cafes or coffee shops, an official said Wednesday.

The head of Bireuen district's Islamic affairs office, Jufliwan, said the measure also forbids restaurants, cafes and coffee shops from serving female customers after 9 p.m. if they are not accompanied by their husbands, fathers, brothers, or other close relatives.

Aceh is the only province in Muslim-majority Indonesia that practices Islamic Shariah law, a concession made by the central government in 2001 as part of efforts to end a decades-long war for independence.

"Unmarried males and females who are not close relatives should not eat and drink at the same table, because it is sinful according to Shariah law," said Jufliwan, who uses a single name.

He said the regulation issued Aug. 30 also prohibits restaurants and coffee shops from hiring lesbians, gays, or bisexual or transgender people as waiters or waitresses.

In 2014 the province's lawmakers passed a law that punishes gay sex by public caning and subjects non-Muslims to the region's strict interpretation of Shariah law.

People convicted of adultery, gambling and consuming alcohol already face caning, as do women wearing tight clothes and people who skip Friday Muslim prayers.

Hundreds of people have been publicly caned since the punishment was introduced in Aceh in 2005.