Muslim Flight Attendants Must Wear Headscarves in Indonesia's Aceh Province or Face Sharia Law

Authorities in the Indonesian province of Aceh have ordered Muslim flight attendants to wear headscarves when flying in the ultra-conservative Islamic region, officials confirmed on Wednesday (January 31).

Aceh is the only province in the predominantly Muslim country to implement Islamic law. Muslims elsewhere practice a moderate form of the religion, leaving women free to choose whether they cover their heads.

The regional government, allowed greater autonomy under a 2001 peace deal with the central government, sent a letter to national carrier Garuda Indonesia and budget carriers, such as Malaysia's AirAsia and Firefly.

"All female stewardesses must wear a 'jilbab' [headscarf] Muslim fashion in accordance with the rules of sharia," the authorities said in the letter.

The international airport in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, services dozens of domestic flights every week, and international routes to neighboring Malaysia and Saudi Arabia.

Non-Muslim flights attendants were not required to wear headscarves, but Muslim staff would be asked to wear them on flights in and out of Aceh, said Mawardi Ali, chief of the Aceh Besar region where the airport is located.

Garuda Indonesia and its budget arm, Citilink, "support the suggestions" and will comply, said airline spokesman Ikhsan Rosan.

Firefly in Malaysia declined to comment, citing "the sensitivity of the matter".

Ali told AFP that women who fail to comply will be arrested.

"We are disseminating this regulation to the airlines through the end of this week. Later, we'll talk about punishment if we find there have been violations," he said, adding that possible punishments will not include public flogging, a common penalty in the province.

"If a [Muslim] crew member fails to comply, we will reprimand her. If she does it repeatedly, I will order Sharia police to nab her."

Indonesia flight attendants
Garuda Indonesia flight attendants arrive at Terminal 3 at Soekarno-Hatta Airport in Jakarta, Indonesia, August 9, 2016. Authorities in the Indonesian province of Aceh have ordered Muslim flight attendants to wear headscarves when flying into the ultra-conservative Islamic region. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside/File Photo

Activists have expressed concern over what they believe is increasing religious conservatism and limitation of people's freedoms and in the province.

Earlier this month, local police detained several transgender women, who had their hair cut and were forced to wear men's clothes. Authorities held the women for three days to "re-educate them" in masculinity.

Amnesty International condemned the action and said it was the latest example of a "long-standing pattern of harassing and discriminating against LGBTI people in the region."

Last year, a woman publicly caned 100 times after being charged with committing adultery was admitted to hospital, with the case sparking international outrage.

The caning took place just months after two men were publicly caned nearly 90 times each after being caught having gay sex. Homosexuality is not illegal in several parts of Indonesia, but it is in Aceh.

In 2015, a district in the province invoked a bylaw requiring separate school facilities for boys and girls, while another city in the region barred female passengers from riding motorcycles alongside a male driver.

In 2014, the government in Aceh approved a law obliging every citizen to follow the sharia Islamic legal code regardless of their religion. Councillor Abdulah Saleh said at the time that the behaviour law, or qanun jinayat, "does indeed oblige everyone in Aceh to follow sharia without exception."

He added that non-Muslim violators of Indonesia's national criminal code (KUHP) would be given the option to choose between a sharia court or a regular court, but both courts would adhere to Islamic legislation.