Religious police in Indonesia's Aceh province, where Islamic law is in force, stopped and reprimanded 53 people on Wednesday during a patrol to enforce the Muslim dress code, sparking a stand-off with some residents.

Sharia police in Aceh regularly carry out patrols to enforce the rule of Islamic modesty and a ban on unseemly contact between unmarried couples.

The operation by the Wilayatul Hisbah, as the Islamic police force is known, targeted women wearing shorts and tight pants as well as civil servants who shirked work, said Yustamin, head of enforcement with the Islamic police.

“All of them were let go after being advised to dress properly,” said Yustamin, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.

Novi Yanti, a university student, said she protested because she was stopped and got an earful for wearing jeans, but her complaint was ignored.

“What have I done wrong? It's as if they had no important things to do,” she said. “They had better deal with corruption.”

A housewife who was stopped for not wearing a headscarf lashed out at photojournalists who took her picture.

“They are just doing their job, madam,” said Syamsuddin, a sharia police officer. “If you had not violated the rules, they wouldn't have photographed you.”

Under Aceh's Islamic law, the sale of alcohol is banned across the province and gamblers are punished by caning.

Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra island, has imposed a form of Islamic law for a decade as part of special autonomy granted by the central government to pacify a clamour for independence.

It has been largely peaceful since the government and the Free Aceh Movement separatist group signed a peace pact in 2005. -

Sapa-dpa