Authorities in a devoutly Islamic district of Indonesia’s Aceh province have distributed 20,000 long skirts and prohibited shops from selling tight dresses as a regulation banning Muslim women from wearing revealing clothing took effect Thursday.
The long skirts are to be given to Muslim women caught violating the dress code during a two-month campaign to enforce the regulation, said Ramli Mansur, head of West Aceh district.
Islamic police will determine whether a woman’s clothing violates the dress code, he said.
During raids Thursday, Islamic police caught 18 women traveling on motorbikes who were wearing traditional headscarves but were also dressed in jeans. Each woman was given a long skirt and her pants were confiscated. They were released from police custody after giving their identities and receiving advice from Islamic preachers.
“I am not wearing sexy outfits, but they caught me like a terrorist only because of my jeans,” said Imma, a 40-year-old housewife who uses only one name. She argued that wearing jeans is more comfortable when she travels by motorbike.
Motorbikes are commonly used by both men and women in Indonesia.
“The rule applies only to Muslim residents in West Aceh,” Mansur told The Associated Press. “We don’t enforce it for non-Muslims, but are asking them to respect us.”
He said any shopkeepers caught violating restrictions on selling short skirts and jeans would face a revocation of their business licenses.
No merchants have been seen displaying jeans or tight clothing in stores in West Aceh district in recent weeks.
The regulation is the latest effort to promote strict moral values in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, where most of the roughly 200 million Muslims practice a moderate form of the faith.
It does not set out a specific punishment for violators, but says “moral sanctions” will be imposed by local leaders.
Mansur said women caught violating the ban more than three times could face two weeks in detention.
Rights groups say the regulation violates international treaties and the Indonesian constitution.
Aceh, a semiautonomous region, made news last year when its provincial parliament passed an Islamic, or Shariah, law making adultery punishable by stoning to death. It also has imposed prison sentences and public lashings for homosexuals and pedophiles.
Islamic law is not enforced across the vast island nation. But bans on drinking alcohol, gambling and kissing in public, among other activities, have been enforced by some more conservative local governments in recent years.
Opinion polls show that a majority of Indonesians oppose the restrictions on dress and behavior, which are being pushed by hard-liners in the secular democracy.