Several unmarried couples and two women were publicly caned in front of an enthusiastic audience in Indonesia on Friday, for violating Islamic law, including engaging in extra-marital affairs.

In Aceh – a deeply conservative province in Muslim-majority Indonesia – two women accused of prostitution were caned 11 times each, and three unmarried couples accused of “flirtatious behaviour” received between 11 and 22 strokes.

Shariah police wanted to convict the couples of “zina” – unlawful s*xual intercourse that includes sex outside marriage and adultery – which would have resulted in a greater number of lashes, but they lacked enough witnesses.

One of the two women convicted of prostitution held up her hands after the fifth lash to signal that the pain was too intense, but after a quick break she was given a drink and painfully lashed another six times.

Members of the crowd, which included tourists from Malaysia, cheered enthusiastically at each blow and recorded the punishment with their smartphones.

Aceh is the only part of Indonesia to enforce Sharia law.

It received international media attention last year when two men accused of practising gay sex were caned before large crowds and images appeared on social media.

The province’s actions were condemned by many, and the governor of Aceh announced earlier this month that punishments would be moved indoors.

After this display last week, canings will likely only happen in prisons where the public can’t see them.

Many residents are opposed to hiding them, believing it will reduce their deterrent effects and cause more people to violate Shariah law.

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Thousands held signs and protested against the idea outside the Banda Aceh mayor’s office on Thursday.

Human Rights Watch dismissed the country’s calls that the whipping is “cosmetic”.

They said: “Caning remains a form of torture – whether it is done in public or not.”

It was reported last year that authorities in Aceh were canvassing public opinion on whether beheading should be considered as a punishment for murder.

Indonesia already has the death penalty for murder and drug trafficking – but it is usually carried out by firing squad.

A total of 23 people have been executed in Indonesia since 2013.

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