Indonesia: Fatwa Prescribes Death Penalty for Same-sex Relations

Indonesia’s central body of Islamic clerics, Majlis Ulema Indonesia (MUI) issued a fatwa (religious edict) on March 4 that calls for whipping and even the death penalty for men or women engaged in same-sex relations. Earlier this year, on January 15, the MUI had declared a fatwa on all sexual relations between individuals of the same sex as “haram”—forbidden—because “sexual intercourse can only be done by a married couple, which is a man and a woman.” The MUI claimed at the time that it was addressing sodomy rape and child molestation. In fact, the fatwa prohibits any sexual relations outside heterosexual marriage, even for adults in a consenting relationship. The fatwas are part of an increasing religious intolerance towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and anyone perceived to be defying religious norms imposed under a narrow interpretation of Islam by religious extremists—and not shared by other Muslims in Indonesia.

In 2012, Muslim women marched against homosexuality in Indonesia, carrying signs that read "Against harassment to the Prophet Mohammed" and "Gay and lesbians are sinful." Photo Courtesy Ardhanary Institute, 2012

For instance, in 2014, the province of Aceh in North Western Indonesia enacted severe punishments under sharia law for anyone, Muslim and non-Muslim, in a prohibited relationship whether heterosexual, pre-marital, extra marital, gay, lesbian, or bisexual, with penalties including fine, 100 lashes of the cane, and over eight years prison. Women are expected to observe strict dress codes such as mandatory wearing of headscarves and no fitting jeans. The MUI’s fatwas not only put some people at greater risk because of their visible gender expression (such as butch lesbians, women who appear masculine, transgender men or women and effeminate men), but also encourages accusations on mere suspicion by neighbors and police. Such accusations inevitably will lead to scrutiny, unwanted publicity, and disruption of people’s lives. Worse, the MUI’s actions create an unhealthy and undemocratic environment, inciting vigilante groups (like the Front Pembela Islam) who have over the last few years used threats and violence against private peaceful gatherings of LGBT human rights advocates, causing injuries and damaging property. Police who were present at these attacks did nothing. There are respected Indonesian Islamic scholars who support the human rights of LGBT people. Indonesia’s pluralism is a governing principle that LGBT activists point to when urging sexual and gender diversity. President Jokowi Widodo was described as the new face of human rights. Yet, the Central Government of Indonesia was silent when the provincial government of Aceh began enforcing its draconian laws against prohibited sexual relationships in 2014. It continues to be silent now in 2015 despite the fatwas that clearly do not represent the face of human rights.