JUST months after its southern neighbour Australia legalised gay marriage, Indonesia’s parliament is considering a controversial bill which would officially criminalise extramarital sex including homosexuality for the first time.
After one parliamentarian recently erroneously claimed that certain political parties supported LGBT rights and the legalisation of gay marriage, lawmakers in the House of Representatives are now looking to introduce changes to the criminal code which would criminalise same-sex relations, as well as impose new restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly.
While adultery is already illegal in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, homosexuality is not explicitly outlawed unlike in neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore. Recent years have, however, seen a marked uptick in anti-LGBT sentiment amid the rise of increasingly influential, fundamentalist strains of Islam in Indonesia.
In 2017, more than 100 people were arrested in raids on ‘gay parties’ in Jakarta, Bogor, Surabaya and elsewhere, many being charged Indonesia’s loosely-defined pornography laws. The country’s Attorney General posted a job advertisement in September which barred LGBT applicants and referred to homosexuality as a mental illness.
The Indonesian communications ministry said this week that Google had agreed to remove the gay social media app Blued from its Play Store. The government has requested some 73 LGBT-friendly apps be removed from Play Store, reported Kompas, of which 14 have been deleted to date.
Ahead of important provincial elections this year and the presidential poll in 2019, the crackdown against LGBT Indonesians continues unabated.
The revised criminal code – which has been suggested for introduction as soon as Valentine’s Day – proposes a wide range of harsh new penalties for various ‘moral’ offences, spreading fake news, insulting authority and even hosting public party without a permit.
Women’s rights activists fear it will applied selectively to criminalise their activities. For example, providing information about contraception without a permit will be punishable by fines of up to 10 million Rupiah (US$745).
“From a human rights perspective, the increased criminalisation [of sexual behaviour] seems to far outweigh its benefits,” said Imam Nahe’i of the National Commission on Violence Against Women, as quoted by The Jakarta Post.
Worryingly for any politically active Indonesian, the bill also includes punishment for “insulting” authority or state institutions, which is punishable by a year imprisonment or up to US$3,700.
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In public debates of the legislation, however, cracking down on the LGBT community has been the emphasis.
When polled, Indonesians overwhelmingly disapprove of non-heterosexual relationships. A national survey released last week by local pollster Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting showed that of those who had heard of the LGBT community, almost 90 percent felt “threatened” by them.
Half said they wouldn’t accept an LGBT person in their own family, 80 percent said they wouldn’t tolerate LGBT people as neighbours, while a majority said they would not approve of LGBT people in public office. A slim majority of respondents – 57.7 percent – believed that LGBT people have the right to live in Indonesia.
“You can see how I’m ‘dangerous’ and ‘not supposed to be protected’ in my own country,” said Andri*, a gay man, in relation to the study. “I wanna leave this country if I had the chance,” he told Asian Correspondent via WhatsApp.
But the changes in law sought by parliamentarians are “relevant with the majority” in Indonesia, he said.
Indonesia’s Constitutional Court recently rejected a proposal from a conservative Islamic group calling itself the Family Love Alliance, which would have criminalised extra-marital sex and homosexuality, ruling that it was for parliament to pass legislation.
Nevertheless, as Family Love Alliance member Euis Sunarti recently told Reuters: “the truth is the majority of religions in Indonesia hold the same values, so… [the revisions] are representative of the majority and of all cultures in Indonesia.”
The Wahid Foundation this week released a study into the attitudes of Muslim women across Indonesia, finding that more than a quarter said LGBT were their “most disliked” group.
“If the proposed revision of criminal code actually becomes law, these vigilante attacks will only increase,” wrote Naila Rizqi Zakiah, a lawyer for Jakarta-based community legal centre LBH Masyarakat.
“People will likely feel they have the right to conduct raids on LGBT Indonesians, teenagers, unmarried couples, or even married couples,” she said. People with Islamic customary marriages – common in Indonesia but not formally recognised by the state – could also be prosecuted under the laws.
“Sexual minorities are increasingly under threat from persecution by those claiming to uphold morality and religion,” a Jakarta Post editorial on Thursday said, arguing that Indonesia should be striving to protect LGBT rights as it seeks a spot on the United Nations Security Council.
“While we raise solidarity for the Rohingya and fight for the coveted UN seat, our minorities may join Myanmar’s Muslims in fleeing for asylum from the largest Muslim populated country.”
Not only do members of the LGBT community face threats of violence, but also “rejection by their families, neighbourhoods and universities” advocacy coordinator at local LGBT rights organisation Arus Pelangi told Asian Correspondent last year. “The situation is getting worse and worse.”