Indonesia: ‘LGBT Crisis’ Exposed Official Bias

On Aug 10, 2016 Human Rights Watch published:

Government Drove Discriminatory Campaign

(Jakarta) – The Indonesian government stoked an unprecedented attack on the security and rights of sexual and gender minorities in early 2016, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The government campaign included hateful rhetoric, discriminatory edicts, and the use of force to repress peaceful assembly.

The 56-page report, “‘These Political Games Ruin Our Lives’: Indonesia’s LGBT Community Under Threat,” documents how officials’ biased and untrue statements about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people provided social sanction for harassment and violence against LGBT Indonesians, and even death threats by militant Islamists. State institutions, including the National Broadcasting Commission and the National Child Protection Commission, issued censorship directives banning information and broadcasts that portrayed the lives of LGBT people as “normal” as well as so-called “propaganda” about LGBT lives. That combination of discriminatory rhetoric and policy decisions harmed the physical security and right to free expression of LGBT people across the country.

Indonesian government officials made a series of anti-LGBT comments, resulting in proposals of laws which pose a serious threat to the rights and safety of LGBT Indonesians.

“The discriminatory actions of Indonesian officials and institutions has laid bare the depth and breadth of the government’s prejudice – and the campaign of hate is apparently not over yet,” said Kyle Knight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “The anti-LGBT rhetoric also exposed the government’s unwillingness to stand between a marginalized minority and its attackers – a most basic failure to protect, similar to Indonesia’s recent record on religious minorities.”

An ongoing Constitutional Court case has been started by a group of professors attempting to change the national criminal code to criminalize consensual adult same-sex sexual behavior, with penalties of up to five years in prison. The next hearing is set for August 23.

The report is based on 70 interviews with Indonesian sexual and gender minorities, LGBT human rights activists, and other civil society representatives across Indonesia between January and June 2016. The series of anti-LGBT remarks began on January 24, when the higher education minister, Muhammad Nasir, said he wanted to ban LGBT student organizations from university campuses. Reacting to the formation of a student-run group that led scholarly discussions on gender and sexuality at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta, Nasir proclaimed that such groups were not “in accordance with the values and morals of Indonesia.”

Within weeks, statements ranging from the absurd to the apocalyptic echoed through Indonesia’s media. At a maternal health seminar, a mayor warned young mothers to teach their children how not to be gay. Ryamizard Ryacudu, the defense minister, labeled LGBT rights activism a proxy war on the nation led by outsiders, more dangerous than a nuclear bomb.

Mainstream mass religious groups such as the Nadhlatul Ulama (NU), the country’s largest Muslim organization and a recipient of foreign aid money to work with LGBT populations, called for criminalization of LGBT behaviors and activism, and forced “rehabilitation” for LGBT people. The Indonesian Psychiatric Association joined the anti-LGBT chorus by proclaiming same-sex sexual orientation and transgender identities “mental illnesses” and recommending psychological “rehabilitation.”

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