INDONESIA should not introduce reforms to its penal code which would outlaw extramarital sex including homosexuality, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein has said during a visit to the nation’s capital Jakarta.
Zeid said that while in many ways Indonesia was living up to the promise of being a “vibrant democracy”, he was “greatly concerned” with discussions about revisions to the criminal code whereby sexual relations defined as zina – the Islamic concept of adultery – would be jailable offences.
While proposed changes to the criminal code are wide-ranging including tougher restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly, cracking down on the already marginalised LGBT community has been the emphasis of public debate in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.
“These discussions betray strains of intolerance seemingly alien to Indonesian culture that have made inroads here,” said Zeid. “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.”
Recent years have seen intensified crackdowns against homosexuals and transgender Indonesians amid rising Islamic conservatism, including bans on LGBT-friendly phone apps and raids against so-called “gay parties” by police and hardline religious vigilantes.
Last week, hundreds of protesters gathered in the conservative province of Aceh to protest against LGBT Indonesians, following the detention and harassment of 12 transgender women in raids by local religious police.
Anti-LGBT banners have appeared across Jakarta, while public voices in support of the marginalised community are few and far between. Some commentators see the moral panic around LGBT issues as manufactured by Islamic parties to boost support ahead of the presidential elections in 2019.
“At a time when it is consolidating its democratic gains, we urge Indonesians to move forward – not backwards – on human rights and resist attempts to introduce new forms of discrimination in law,” added Zeid.
The proposed changes to the penal code – which most lawmakers in Indonesian parliament supposedly support – would allow for five years’ imprisonment for extramarital sex including homosexuality.
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“LGBTI Indonesians already face increasing stigma, threats and intimidation,” said the Commissioner on Wednesday. “The hateful rhetoric against this community that is being cultivated seemingly for cynical political purposes will only deepen their suffering and create unnecessary divisions.”
Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) also called upon Indonesia to reject the changes, citing a “dramatic rise in hostility” against the LGBT community from Islamist organisations, state authorities and even mainstream religious groups.
Teddy Baguilat, a member of the House of Representatives of the Philippines, said that if passed the changes would “reinforce existing prejudices and discrimination faced by an already vulnerable community in Indonesia, and legitimise ongoing bullying, homophobic violence, and police abuse.”
“For a country that has rightly considered itself a leader within the Asean region on issues of human rights, this would be a clear move in the wrong direction,” he said.
On Tuesday, the Commissioner met with President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and raised concern over the issue of discrimination against LGBT Indonesians, particularly in the context of revisions to the criminal code, reported Kompas.
Indonesia’s Justice and Human Rights Minister Yasonna H. Laoly said that while the country would not criminalise same-sex orientation, there should still be penalties for “LGBT acts”. The country’s culture and beliefs meant that “promoting” LGBT was “not acceptable”, he said.
Zeid also expressed concern over human rights abuses in Indonesia’s Papua province, for failure to publicly address the massacre of communists in 1965, as well as the country’s controversial blasphemy law which he said had been “used to convict members of minority religious or faith groups.”
“If Muslim societies expect others to fight against Islamophobia, we should be prepared to end discrimination at home too. Islamophobia is wrong. Discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs and colour is wrong. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or any other status is wrong,” he said.
Zeid said he hoped “the common sense and strong tradition of tolerance of the Indonesian people would prevail over populism and political opportunism.”