Indonesian police arrested 58 people on Friday in what authorities allege is a crackdown on sex work in the capital of Jakarta.
For the second time in a year, a bathhouse known as a hotspot for gay men was targeted and those police claim were engaging in prostitution were rounded up. Argo Yuwono, a spokesperson for local law enforcement, claimed that authorities received a tip that the establishment was being used to facilitate hookups “between men and men or same-sex relationships.”
“There’s a cashier, the manager there and also those providing facilities like towels and other things,” he told The Guardian.
But Yuwono’s account of the arrests leaves ample room for skepticism. For one, the representative claims that it was dark in the sauna while police were conducting the raids, meaning that the behavior clients were engaging in would be difficult for law enforcement officials to observe.
Of those arrested, authorities say a majority have been released. Detainees include several foreign nationals, including four Chinese men.
Outside of the Shariah-governed Aceh province, homosexuality is not criminalized in the Muslim majority nation. But five employees of the bathhouse could face charges under Indonesia’s anti-prostitution and anti-pornography laws, which are often used to circumvent the legality of same-sex relations. The defendants could face up to a decade behind bars.
The Jakarta sauna was previously raided in May. An estimated 141 people were arrested, and these men were allegedly stripped naked, photographed, and then humiliated when those images were disseminated on social media.
This is the fifth anti-LGBTQ sting operation in 2017 as Indonesian authorities increasingly target the country’s queer and trans population. Although the archipelago was once known as relatively progressive, Indonesia moved to the hard right in 2016 after a government official claimed that LGBTQ students should be banned from college campuses.
A leading psychiatric group in Indonesia would subsequently proclaim homosexuality to be a “mental disorder.”
The attacks on the LGBTQ community have been numerous in the year and a half sincefrom a national freakout over gay emoji to the forced shutdown of a boarding school for transgender people in Yogyakarta, one of just a few of its kind in the world.
But perhaps the most brutal exemplification of Indonesia’s increasingly hardline stance toward LGBTQ people is the caning of two men accused of homosexuality in Aceh. Authorities in Aceh, an independent province in the state, flogged them 83 times in a public ceremony held in May. Onlookers reportedly screamed to beat them harder.
Advocates say Indonesian President Joko Widodo has taken little action to stop the persecution, waiting nine months before he made a public statement on the raids. In October 2016, Widodo claimed that “the police must act” to stop the brutality.
Yuwono claimed that Friday’s arrests were a step forward from earlier raids.
“We treated them well,” the police spokesman told reporters. “They came out from the scene with proper clothes and their faces were covered.”
Indonesia is one of several nations experiencing a police crackdown on the LGBTQ community in 2017. Gay men and transgender women have been arrested, beaten, and even killed in countries like Russia, Egypt, and Azerbaijan.