Police found Mukhlis bin Muhammad one night this September in a car parked by a beach. The 46-year-old was with a woman. She was not his wife.

For most men around the world, this would not be making headlines.

But Mukhlis is an Islamic religious scholar and leader in the very conservative Aceh province of Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country. Aceh is the only part of the Southeast Asian nation where an extremely strict form of religious law has been applied for more than a decade. This includes public floggings for adulterers.

Mukhlis is part of the Aceh Ulema Council (MPU), the religious body that advises the local government, and helped to write its anti-adultery law, along with others like it that ban gambling and same-sex relations.

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“This is God’s law,” Husaini Wahab, deputy mayor of the district where Mukhlis lives, told BBC News. “Anyone must be flogged if proven guilty, even if he is a member of the MPU.”

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So Mukhlis was flogged. On Oct. 31, he was publicly flogged 28 times. The woman he allegedly had an affair with was caned 23 times.

Husaini told the BBC that Mukhlis would also be kicked off the council.

Human rights groups have previously called for the repeal of Aceh’s public floggings and canings.

In other Muslim-majority countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brunei and Somalia, adultery is also criminalized. In Saudi Arabia it can be punishable by death.

India only removed it’s anti-adultery law in 2018. South Korea struck down a law in 2015 that criminalized adultery with up to two years in jail.

Twenty-one states in the United States still have laws making adultery a criminal offense, though they are rarely enforced or don’t carry heavy sentences.

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