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Indonesian punks forced into re-education

By Karishma VaswaniBBC News, Jakarta

A group of arrested Indonesian punks are jailed in Banda Aceh police station in Aceh province

 The punks and skinheads were rounded up at a local concert

Dozens of young men and women have been detained for being “punk” and disturbing the peace in Aceh, Indonesia’s most devoutly Muslim province. They are being held in a remedial school, where they are undergoing “re-education”.

Rights groups have expressed concern after photographs emerged of the young men having their mohawks and funky hairstyles shaved off by Aceh’s police.

They look sullen and frightened as they are forced into a communal bath.

But Aceh’s police say they are not trying to harm the youths, they are trying to protect them.

The 64 punks, many of whom are from as far away as Bali or Jakarta, were picked up on Saturday night during a local concert.Aceh police spokesman Gustav Leo says there have been complaints from residents nearby.The residents did not like the behaviour of the punks and alleged that some of them had approached locals for money.

Mr Leo stressed that no-one had been charged with any crime, and there were no plans to do so.

They have now been taken to a remedial school in the Seulawah Hills, about 60km (37 miles) away from the provincial capital Banda Aceh.

“They will undergo a re-education so their morals will match those of other Acehnese people,” says Mr Leo.

But activists say the manner in which the young people have been treated is humiliating and a violation of human rights.

Aceh Human Rights Coalition chief Evi Narti Zain says the police should not have taken such harsh steps, accusing them of treating children like criminals.

“They are just children, teenagers, expressing themselves,” she says.

“Of course there are Acehnese people who complained about them – but regardless of that, this case shouldn’t have been handled like this. They were doused with cold water, and their heads were shaved – this is a human rights violation. Their dignity was abused.”

But Mr Leo disagrees.It is the second time the police have cracked down on punk culture in Aceh

“We didn’t arrest them, they haven’t committed any criminal offence,” he says.

“They are Aceh’s own children – we are doing this for their own good. Their future could be at risk. We are re-educating them so they don’t shame their parents.”

This is the second time Aceh’s police have clamped down on punks in the province, which is the only province in Indonesia allowed to implement shariah law.

There is a thriving underground punk music scene in Aceh, but many punk-lovers are viewed suspiciously by local residents.

Many of the young teens sport outrageous hairstyles, in keeping with punk culture, but against the norms of the keenly religious in Aceh.

Aceh is one of the most devout Muslim provinces in Indonesia, and observers say it has becoming increasingly more conservative since Islamic law was implemented a few years ago.

Indonesian punks stand in line before prayer.  Indonesian punk rock fans, their head shaved clean, stand in line before prayer at the police school in Aceh Besar, Indonesia. Photograph: Heri Juanda/AP Mohawks shaved and noses free of piercings, dozens of youths march in military style for hours beneath Indonesia’s tropical sun – part of efforts by the authorities to restore moral values and bring the “deviants” back into the mainstream. But the young men and women have shown no signs of bending. When commanders turn their backs, the shouts ring out: “Punk will never die!” Fists are thrown in the air and peace signs flashed.

A few have managed briefly to escape, heads held high as they are dragged back. Sixty-five young punk rockers arrived at the police detention centre last week after baton-wielding police raided a concert in Aceh – the only province in the predominantly Muslim nation of 240 million to have imposed Islamic laws.

They will be released on Friday, after completing 10 days of “rehabilitation” – from classes on good behaviour and religion to military-style drills aimed at instilling discipline. Nineteen-year-old Yudi, who goes by only one name, said it was not working. He tried unsuccessfully to shake off police when they took an electric razor to his spiky mohawk. At the sight of his hair scattered in the grass, he recalled, tears rolled down his face. “It was torture to me,” he said. “I can’t wait to get out of here,” he added. “They can’t change me. I love punk. I don’t feel guilty about my lifestyle. Why should I? There’s nothing wrong with it.” His girlfriend, 20-year-old Intan Natalia, agreed. Her bleach-blonde hair has been cut to a bob and dyed black and she has been forced to wear a Muslim headscarf. “They can say what they want, but I like life as a punk,” she said. “It suits me.” Two young men hated it so much at the detention centre, they tried to escape. They pretended they had to go to the bathroom then fled to the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, 30 miles away. Police found them strolling the streets nine hours later and brought them back. It was just after midnight. “They said they missed their parents, but it’s pretty clear they were lying,” said the local police chief, Colonel Armensyah Thay. “They didn’t go home. How could they? They’ve been living on the streets.” The crackdown marked the latest effort by authorities to promote strict moral values in Aceh which, unlike other provinces in the sprawling archipelagic nation, enjoys semi-autonomy from the central government. That was part of a peace deal negotiated after the 2004 tsunami off Aceh convinced separatist rebels and the army to lay down their arms, with both sides saying they did not want to add to people’s suffering. More than 230,000 people were killed in the towering wave, three-quarters of them in Aceh.