Indonesia: Intensifying Crackdown on LGBTIQ Human Rights

Indonesian LGBTIQ people have seen an intensified crackdown on their human rights since January 2016, when efforts to ban LGBT organizations from college campuses were made, which was followed by an outburst of moral panic nationally.

More and more arrests and harassment takes place under the Anti-Pornography Law, enacted in 2008. The Anti-Pornography Law is the major legislation criminalizing LGBTIQ people in Indonesia and is being used to charge everyone; not a sodomy law or ban on gay sex. In 2017, more than 200 LGBTIQ people were arrested under the Anti-Pornography Law. Once such instance was during the raid on a sauna in Jakarta on 8th October 2017, in which 58 people were arrested.

Conservative hardliners and fundamentalists are aiming to criminalize homosexuality and extramarital sex as soon as possible through a reform of the country’s criminal code, a process unfolding in Indonesia’s parliament.

Their first attempt was halted in the Constitutional Court in December 2017. The Court rejected the appeal to ban gay and extramarital sex with a 5-4 verdict in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation. The Constitutional Court’s decision focused more on the fact that it was the wrong venue to consider such a ban rather than on the human rights implications of such a ban.

At the same time, a process is taking place in parliament at the legislative level. The parliament is expected to implement the ban as part of the reform of the country’s criminal code. Indonesia’s criminal code dates to the days after independence, over 70 years ago, and is based largely on colonial Dutch Roman law. The plan of the parliament was to enact the bill on the 14th of February, however the government has rejected that plan. The Indonesian government does not agree with the position of the parliament to include all private matters in the reformed criminal code. Initiatives to criminalize private matters are far reaching. Fundamentalist groups have managed to insert a new provision in the first book of the criminal code on basic principles, which stands to criminalize anything that is seen as against social norms or can be considered an obscene act. The Committee working on the reform of the criminal code has accepted that homosexual relations should be considered as obscene acts.

Deliberations are still on going and pressure is mounting on the government internally to accept the new code and implement the new legislation. This could be as soon as next month. External pressure is rising against the encroachment of the rights of Indonesian people as well. For example from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad al-Hussein, who was in Jakarta from 5-7 February for a series of high-level meetings, during which he said:

I am greatly concerned about the discussions around revisions to the penal code. These discussions betray strains of intolerance seemingly alien to Indonesian culture. . . . The extremist views playing out in the political arena are deeply worrying, accompanied as they are by rising levels of incitement to discrimination, hatred or violence in various parts of the country.

On a human level, LGBTIQ activists are facing more and more hatred and violence, as they have never experienced before. Groups are falling apart out of fear; activists do not dare to gather anymore, and once friendly neighbours are now turning against them. In Aceh, the only province in Indonesia where Shari’a law applies, attacks have become more frequent, openly public, and increasingly conducted or supported by officials, like the rounding up and public humiliation of 12 transgender women by the police forces on the 29th of January. Reports and videos were released in which it was shown that they were stripped, beaten and forced to cut their hair before being released without charge.