Indonesia: Police Allow Fundamentalists to Disrupt Another LGBT Event

Twenty-four hours after they issued a permit to do so, police in Yogyakarta, Indonesia denied lesbians, gay men, waria (third gender), women's-rights activists, interfaith-youth activists, and other human-rights activists the right to hold a cultural performance to mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO).

Yogyakarta is the fourth Indonesian city this year to see police refuse to protect LGBT people from religious vigilantism and homophobic violence. In refusing to provide protection the police have failed to live up to the national police mandate to protect marginalized groups. Similar lapses in police protection occurred in Surabaya during the ILGA Asia Conference in April, in Depok during a human rights training for waria, and in Bandung prior to a seminar on HIV/AIDS in May.

This most recent IDAHO event in Yogyakarta was organized to celebrate Indonesia's sexual diversity. Significantly, it was in Yogyakarta where, in 2006, human rights experts from 25 countries gathered to develop and affirm the Yogyakarta Principles — a groundbreaking document which articulates human rights principles on the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Yogyakarta Human Rights Network for Diversity is a coalition of human rights activists that came together to address threats and violence against human rights defenders and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) activists after 12 of its members experienced firsthand the Surabaya siege orchestrated by religious vigilantes in that city. A member of the network spoke with IGLHRC about the most recent events:

“On May 22 morning, we went to the police station to collect our permit and were told that the Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defenders Front) had threatened violent opposition to the event and police had to cancel our permit to protect public security.”

Members of the Islamic Defenders Front put up a poster and a banner on the premises of the cultural event, warning against holding any events for IDAHO. Sasono Hinggil, the premises in front of which the event was to be held, was under the authority of the Sultan and Princess of Yogyakarta. Although they initially invited the Yogyakarta Human Rights Network for Diversity to hold this event at the premises, they withdrew their permission when police cancelled the event.

IGLHRC has learned that a few days prior to the May 22 cancellation, 60 people gathered at the Yogyakarta Beringharjo Market for performances by waria (third gender) … Activists went around the market in white shirts with a call for diversity written on their shirts and collected signatures from people in the market in support of the call. In addition, 80 people attended a panel presentation on “Sexual Diversity and Gender Identity as Part of Nation’s Culture” at the Gajah Mada University. Panelists included an expert on sexuality, an activist who provided an art and cultural space for transsexuals to explore local traditions, a legal expert, and a local Muslim religious leader—all of whom were supportive of the rights of LGBT people.

In response to the Yogyakarta police's withdrawal of the permit, event organizers called a press conference the same day to expose police capitulation to religious vigilantes. They also held an impromptu march around South Square (Alun Alun Kidul), located near Sasono Hinggil. Nearly 50 people on foot and on bicycles circled South Square 18 times while singing the Indonesian national anthem.

One organizer explained, "18 symbolized the 18 years that IDAHO has been in existence." Curious passersby joined the march when they learned what was going on.

IGLHRC is working closely with activists in Yogyakarta and other Indonesian cities to protest such examples of intimidation of LGBT people and to challenge the government’s blatant discrimination and neglect of its LGBT citizens.

For more information on IGLHRC’s work in Indonesia, see IGLHRC’s letter to Indonesian National Human Rights Commission and related resources.