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As candidates hit the campaign trail in preparation for July's presidential election, Indonesian rights groups have voiced strong opposition to an increasing number of Shari'ah-inspired laws they say discriminate against religious minorities and violate Indonesia's policy of the Pancasila, or "unity in diversity."

With President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono likely to form a coalition with Islamic parties for the election, such laws could become a key campaign issue.

Although Aceh is the only province governed by Shari'ah, more than 50 regencies in 16 of Indonesia's 32 provinces have passed some 600 Shari'ah-influenced laws following the Regional Autonomy Law of 2000.

The laws vary widely. Legislation in Padang requires both Muslim and non-Muslim women to wear headscarves, while a law in Tangerang allows women found "loitering" on the street after 10 p.m. to be arrested for prostitution. Other laws include stipulations for Qur'an literacy among schoolchildren and severe punishment for adultery, alcoholism, and gambling.

Freedom of religion is guaranteed by Article 29 of Indonesia's constitution, yet some regencies have adopted Shari'ah in a way that further marginalizes minority groups, said Syafi'i Anwar, executive director of the International Center for Islam and Pluralism. Citing the Padang headscarf example, he said, "This is unacceptable because it is not in line with the pluralism that the constitution recognizes."

While Indonesia's largest Muslim group, Nahdlatul Ulama, has publicly denounced the implementation of such laws, other groups actively support them.

In February 2008, Home Affairs Minister Mardiyanto declared that the national government saw no need to nullify some 600 Shari'ah-inspired laws passed by local governments. ...

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