A leading international advocacy group condemned arrests of LGBTQ Indonesians in what critics say is an ongoing crackdown on gender and sexual minorities.
In a Monday letter addressed to West Java Governor Ridwan Kamil, Human Rights Watch urged Kamil to halt “discriminatory policy proposals and actions by local government officials” targeting queer and transgender people in the south Indonesian province of 46 million.
“We urge you to send an unambiguous message that your administration will defend the fundamental rights of all Indonesians and stop vilifying and harassing LGBTQ people,” HRW claimed.
The letter was signed by HRW LGBTQ Program Director Graeme Reid and Asia Director Brad Adams.
The human rights organization detailed a series of attacks on West Java’s LGBTQ community in recent weeks. On Oct. 18, police raided the home of a gay couple accused of creating a Facebook page to matchmake queer and trans people looking for a relationship, casual encounter, or just to meet friends.
Law enforcement officials reportedly confiscated five cellphones and two dozen condoms during the raid.
The case marked one of the first reported instances of LGBTQ people being targeted for online activity in Indonesia. Although homosexuality is not illegal in the world’s largest Muslim-majority democracy, authorities often use the country’s draconian pornography laws as a loophole to circumvent the lack of a sodomy ban.
The couple has been accused of spreading “immoral material” under Articles 45.1 and 47.1 of the 2016 Internet Law.
Two other LGBTQ-oriented Facebook groups, known as “Gay Singaparna Baru” and “Gay Ciawi Panumbangan,” have also been reported to Islamic authorities, according to HRW. It’s unclear whether police plan to take action.
Amid hysteria around LGBTQ organizing on social media, authorities have urged greater surveillance of queer and trans people.
Officials in the West Java city of Cianjur reportedly plan to issue mandates to teachers and faculty on how neutralize the “LGBTQ threat” in schools. This decree is said to include guidelines on “socialization and coaching related to LGBTQ, drugs, alcohol, and gambling.”
Earlier this month, District Administrative Assistant Ahmad Muchsin urged education ministers in neighboring Tasikmalaya to “sharpen” efforts to prevent the alleged spread of homosexuality among students.
Most alarmingly, the Religious-Social Research Institution (LENSA) plans to disclose the names and addresses of LGBTQ people to local government.
HRW urged West Java officials to halt these surveillance efforts.
“Indonesian officials at all levels need to protect LGBTQ people from violence and discrimination,” said Indonesia Researcher Andreas Harsono in a statement.
“Vitriolic anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from Indonesian officials gives social sanction and political cover to violence and discrimination,” Harsono continued. “Governor Kamil needs to uphold ‘unity in diversity’ by publicly opposing officials who treat LGBTQ people as a threat and putting an end to unlawful police behavior.”
Although Indonesia was once known as a safe haven for queer and trans people, the country has taken a sharp rightward turn in the past two years.
The crackdown on Indonesia’s LGBTQ community began in January 2016 when Minister of Higher Education Muhammad Nasir sought to ban queer-led student groups from organizing on local college campuses.
Although Nasir later walked back those remarks, the comments triggered a wave of anti-LGBTQ attacks by government officials. Over the next few months, Indonesian leaders referred to homosexuality as a “psychological illness.” Politicians accused equality activists of trying to “brainwash” and “convert” children.
Berliana Kartakusumah, secretary-general for the Hanura Party, claimed LGBTQ individuals “must be banned just like [Indonesia] banned communism and drug trafficking.”
Others claimed queer and trans people should be barred from serving in public office.
The increasingly negative rhetoric directed toward the LGBTQ community has correlated with increasing persecution by law enforcement officials. In 2017, police arrested more than 300 queer and trans people. This total included the 141 men rounded up during an May raid on a popular gay spa in Jakarta.
Almost exactly a year later, these assaults on LGBTQ life have not abated.
Just weeks ago, police in Jakarta detained 23 gay men after raiding a private house party—although just four were booked. Authorities accused detainees of prostitution and drug possession.
Earlier this year, HRW warned the crackdown is having extreme negative impacts on Indonesia’s LGBTQ community.
“The Indonesian government’s failure to address anti-LGBTQ moral panic is having dire consequences for public health,” said Kyle Knight, HRW’s lead LGBTQ rights researcher. “The Indonesian government should recognize that its role in abuses against LGBTQ people is seriously compromising the country’s response to HIV.”
Since 2013, HIV rates among gay and bisexual men have increased fivefold. Although anti-LGBTQ opponents have used those statistics to claim that homosexuality is inherently “sinful,” advocates say it’s stigma that fueled the surge in transmissions.
Instead of addressing the culture of homophobia behind the crisis, anti-LGBTQ opponents have continued to ramp up their attacks.
Last year, a petition to outlaw homosexuality was narrowly defeated in Indonesia’s constitutional court. Earlier this year the country’s parliament debated legislation which would criminalize sexual acts conducted outside of marriage—including same-sex relations. The effort has stalled.
Currently, only the semi-independent province of Aceh—which governs under Shariah law—explicitly bans homosexuality. In May, two men accused of homosexuality were lashed more than 80 times in a public ceremony.
Gov. Kamil of West Java has yet to respond publicly to HRW’s letter.