“THE EXTREMISTS called and told us they planned to attack. We called the police beforehand, they wouldn’t come … [they] showed up at the very end and watched us be beaten.”
Advocates for the rights of Indonesia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community are facing increasingly “frequent, personal, and violent” threats according to a new report released on Friday by Front Line Defenders, a watchdog.
Research for the report included interviews with 25 human rights defenders working on the issue of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE) rights across the archipelago, the vast majority of whom reported having received death threats.
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Activists reported increasing threats in the wake of anti-LGBT comments, policies and raids by Indonesian authorities throughout 2016.
“Our investigation illustrates that the government’s own crackdown on LGBT rights in 2016 emboldened those who want to terrorise human rights defenders [HRDs] into silence,” said Front Line Defenders Executive Director Andrew Anderson.
“Ongoing police raids and a failure to respond to attacks against HRDs send the message that violence against peaceful activists is acceptable in Indonesia.”
In Indonesia – where a Pew survey has shown some 93 percent of the population says “homosexuality should be rejected” – LGBT issues are often conflated in public discourse with immorality, Western intervention or mental illness.
“The situation is getting worse and worse,” said Lini, advocacy coordinator at local LGBT rights organisation Arus Pelangi. Not only do activists face threats of violence, but also “rejection by their families, neighbourhoods and universities”.
According to the report, 23 out of 25 rights advocates had received death threats since the beginning of 2016, “and their partners or family members have been beaten, tortured, and sexually assaulted in detention in an attempt to intimidate them into stopping their work.”
Threats took the form of online abuse, threatening phone calls and physical attacks on LGBT events. The report noted the increasing use of religious terminology in threats such as “your blood is halal”, meaning it would be acceptable under Islam to murder them.
Arus Pelangi is working to advise activists on how to pay attention to one’s personal security both online and offline, Lini told Asian Correspondent.
The Front Line Defenders report’s findings come at a time of growing fears of rising religious conservatism and intolerance in Indonesia – the world’s largest Muslim majority country.
The nation’s largest mainstream Muslim organisation the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) has now joined calls for the criminalisation of homosexuality and forced “rehabilitation” of LGBT people.
In May, the autonomous province of Aceh caned two young men for being gay for the first time under its 2015 anti-homosexuality law.
Front Line Defenders claimed that “social media accounts known to be affiliated with Islamist groups increasingly post photos or videos of activists with public calls to attack them”.
High-profile raids including on several gay spas in Jakarta during 2017 reflected that the LGBT community is “scapegoated by various political actors to distract public attention from other scandals – usually corruption scandals – or to secure votes,” said the report.