RIGHTS groups in Indonesia are alarmed by the recent spate of arrests involving the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transvestite (LGBT) community in the Muslim-majority Southeast Asian nation.
Amnesty International recorded at least four series of arrests and public humiliations of LGBT individuals across the country last months, in what appears to be an intensified crackdown by police and municipal police (Satpol PP).
The rights group said the latest arrest took place on in Padang, West Sumatra on Nov 4, when Satpol PP arrested ten people presumed to be lesbian women after one of them posted a photo of herself kissing and hugging her girlfriend on Facebook following a tip-off from members of the public.
The authorities said the ten arrested would be sent to a local affairs agency to undergo an “education programme”. However, they did not elaborate on the details of the programme.
The latest arrest came after an earlier raid in neighbouring Lampung province where three transgender women were nabbed in an operation to “provide safety and maintain public order” in the city. Satpol PP had used a fire truck to hose the transgender women in a “mandatory bath”, or Ghusl, Amnesty said.
“The humiliation of these three transgender women is appalling and constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment which is absolutely prohibited under international law,” Amnesty International Indonesia’s Executive Director Usman Hamid said in a statement.
“Raiding people and using a fire truck to hose them down in public are totally unacceptable, as is any other act of violence and discrimination against transgender women or other LGBTI people.”
Another two lesbian women were also arrested by the municipal police in West Pasaman, West Sumatra on Oct 31 following the arrest of six people suspected of being transgender women earlier in the month.
According to Amnesty, the agency made the arrests to ensure the city was “clean” from the LGBT community with the head of Satpol PP saying “there was no place for LGBT people in the city.”
It said the authorities were justifying the arrest with the need to uphold a public order bylaw “regulates light sanctions for LGBT people.”
“This vicious campaign against LGBT people in Lampung, Padang, West Pasaman and in Indonesia as a whole must immediately stop,” Usman said.
“The police must protect the citizens of this country. They must also investigate the Satpol PP officers and bring perpetrators to justice, otherwise, they enable an increasingly worrying climate of impunity.”
In October, two men who administered a Facebook group called “Facebook Gay Bandung Indonesia” with has over 3,000 members were charged under the country’s Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) Law “for distributing electronic information which contain violation decency”.
“This situation is alarming as the hateful abuses by law enforcement bodies against LGBT people are seen as a normal practice by many people in Indonesia,” Usman Hamid said in a statement.
“Some people even encourage the police and Satpol PP to carry out the arrests. The central government must take action to stop the crackdowns and order local administration to repeal all discriminatory regulations.
“Police officers should be instructed to protect LGBT people who were persecuted for their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, which are innate parts of a person’s identity and should not be criminalized,” he added.
According to Human Rights Watch, the arrests were part of a wider national trend observed in the past three years where the vast archipelago has been engulfed by a government-driven “moral panic about gender and sexuality.
HRW pointed out that politicians, government officials and state offices have issued anti-LGBT statements suggesting criminalisation and “cures” for homosexuality, and censorship of things related to the community.
The trend, HRW said, points back to an incident in Jan 2016 in which Indonesia’s higher education minister Mohammed Nasir tweeted that he wanted to ban all LGBT student groups from university campuses.
In roughly two months, dozens of public officials followed suit, adding to public denouncements of the LGBT group.
Defence minister Ryamizard Ryacudu later likened gay and trans rights activism to “proxy war” waged by foreign elements, saying the LGBT phenomenon was more dangerous than a nuclear attack.
In wake of the open ciriticisms against the LGBT group, police mounted raids on Saunas nightclubs, hotel room, and private homes over suspicions that gay or trans people were in the buildings.
HRW said Islamic militants would often accompany the police on the raids. In last year, at least 300 people were arrested due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The arrests last year included the widely-reported case of two men being publicly flogged for allegedly having sex in the conservative Aceh province, where the local government enforces strict Sharia law.
“LGBT people in Indonesia have historically lived with intermittent bouts of animosity, but tolerant social attitudes provided a shield that typically prevented outright violence,” Kyle Knight, researcher of the watchdog’s LGBT rights programme, said in a statement.