But militant Islamists have since imposed sharia law in Aceh and have cornered Indonesian government funds to organise a moral vigilante force that harasses women and stages frequent displays of humiliation and state-sanctioned violence.

International aid workers and Indonesian women’s organisations are now expressing dismay that the flow of foreign cash for reconstruction has allowed the government to spend scarce money on a new bureaucracy and religious police to enforce puritan laws, such as the compulsory wearing of headscarves.

But audiences throughout the Indonesian archipelago watched the televised flogging of a man convicted of drinking beer. He collapsed after seven of the 40 prescribed strokes and officials said he would receive the remaining 33 when he recovered.

The example of Aceh has attracted fundamentalists from elsewhere in Indonesia, who see it as a blueprint for their own localities.

Politisk våpen

Menneskerettsforkjempere retter samme anklage mot myndighetene som mange andre steder i Midtøsten: folk fores med militant islam for å dempe presset for mer demokrati. Et farlig spill, sies det. Men det samme har i årevis vært gjort med Israel og nå USA. Myndighetene avleder frustrasjonen mot disse «lynavlederne».

The former guerrillas accuse the government of bolstering the Islamists and using sharia as a method of weakening their consistent demand for a progressive, democratic Aceh, ruled by its own people. «They are exploiting the religious conviction of many Acehnese to manipulate them,» wrote Aguswandi, a human rights activist, in The Jakarta Post.

Aguswandi, who like many Indonesians uses just one name, said the tactic could misfire. «The use of religion as a political tool to pacify the population or as political bribery is a dangerous move. It is like setting a timebomb. When it goes off it could unleash an era of harsh, intolerant and conservative Islam,» he wrote.

Pisking av kvinner er et populært rituale for menn. Det har tydelig en seksualsadistisk undertone.

She is dressed in white robes and veiled. Policemen escort her up on to a stage erected before a jeering crowd, which, witnesses say, is usually almost exclusively male.

Forced to kneel, the woman waits while a masked man ascends the platform. He is carrying a cane with a curved handle designed to give the inflictor of God’s punishment a better grip. From the loudspeakers, a man’s voice sonorously recites the appropriate religious chastisement. Then he begins to count. With each number, the cane descends with a vicious lash.

According to witnesses, male onlookers often roar in delight and hurl pious imprecations at the victims, working themselves up to a pitch of excitement.

In one collective punishment last summer, four women denounced for gambling were given between six and 10 lashes. One passed out as she was dragged off the stage.

Tsunami survivors given the lashMichael Sheridan and Dewi Loveard, Banda Aceh

Disaster donations help Islamic vigilante force impose punishments on women