Indonesia keeps persecuting its LGBT citizens

Indonesia is continuing to persecute LGBTI people, Human Rights Watch reports.  At a time when two men have been jailed on homosexuality charges, Indonesia President Joko Widodo missed an opportunity to roll back repressive sharia laws.

Human Rights Watch decried both developments. On April 9, HRW stated:

Indonesia: Release Gay Men at Risk of Torture

Jokowi Should Scrap 100 Lashes for Same-Sex Relations

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (Photo courtesy
Indonesian President Joko Widodo (Photo courtesy

Indonesian authorities should immediately and unconditionally release two men detained in Aceh province under a local ordinance that criminalizes homosexuality, Human Rights Watch said today.

On the night of March 28, 2017, unidentified vigilantes forcibly entered a home and brought two men found there to the police for allegedly having same-sex relations. The two men, in their twenties, have been detained at a Wilayatul Hisbah, a Sharia (Islamic law) police facility in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital. The chief inspector indicated that the men had confessed to being gay and would be detained for sentencing. Under Aceh’s Islamic Criminal Code (Qanun Jinayah), they face up to 100 lashes in public – a punishment that constitutes torture under international law.

“The arrest and detention of these two men underscores the abuse imbedded in Aceh’s discriminatory, anti-LGBT ordinances,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia division director at Human Right Watch. “These men had their privacy invaded in a frightening and humiliating manner and now face public torture for the ‘crime’ of their alleged sexual orientation.”

Cell phone video footage of the raid, apparently shot by one of the vigilantes and circulating on social media, shows one of the two men visibly distressed as he calls for help on his cellphone. “Please brother, please stop,” one of the men says in the video. “My parents want to talk to you, they can pick me up.” Aceh’s Sharia ordinances empower members of the public as well as the special Sharia police to publicly identify and detain anyone suspected of violating its rules.

Indonesia map shows Aceh province. (Map courtesy of
Indonesia map shows Aceh and South Sumatra provinces, where homosexual activity is agains the law. . (Map courtesy of

Aceh’s Sharia police have previously detained lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. In October 2015, Sharia police arrested two women, ages 18 and 19, on suspicion of being lesbians for embracing in public and detained them for three nights at a Sharia police facility in Banda Aceh. Sharia police repeatedly attempted to compel the two women to identify other suspected LGBT people in Aceh by showing them photographs of individuals taken from social media accounts.

Over the past decade, Aceh’s parliament has gradually adopted Sharia-inspired ordinances that criminalize non-hijab-wearing women, drinking alcohol, gambling, and extramarital sexual relations, all of which can be enforced against non-Muslims. Aceh’s LGBT population is also vulnerable to Aceh’s 2014 Criminal Code that bars liwath (sodomy) and musahabah (lesbian sexual action). Aceh province imposed the Sharia punishment of multiple lashes of a cane against 339 people in 2016.

Under national legislation stemming from a 2001 “Special Status” agreement, Aceh is the only one of Indonesia’s 34 provinces that can legally adopt bylaws derived from Sharia. Human Rights Watch opposes all laws or government policies that are discriminatory or otherwise violate basic rights. Under Indonesian law, the national home affairs minister can review and repeal local bylaws, including those adopted in Aceh. In June, Minister of Home Affairs Tjahjo Kumolo backtracked on his announced commitment to abolish abusive Sharia regulations in the country.

Local government officials in Aceh have actively stoked homophobia, Human Rights Watch said. In 2012 then-Banda Aceh Deputy Mayor Illiza Sa’aduddin advocated harsh punishments for homosexuality, telling the media: “If we ignore it, it will be like an iceberg…Even if one case of homosexuality [is] found, it’s already a problem…[W]e are really concerned about the behavior and activities of the gay community, because their behavior is deviating from the Islamic Shariah.” In 2013, after Illiza was elected mayor of Banda Aceh, she told reporters that “homosexuals are encroaching on our city.” In February 2016, she announced she would create a “special team” to make the public more aware of the “threat of LGBT” and to “train” LGBT people to “return to a normal life.” …   For more information, read the full HRW statement “Indonesia: Release Gay Men at Risk of Torture.”

On April 12, HRW published this commentary:

Indonesia’s Jokowi Fails to Abolish Abusive Sharia Laws

Political Foot-Dragging Was Missed Opportunity to Protect Rights

A recent protest in Indonesia by members of the anti-LGBTI Islam Defenders Front, or FPI (Photo courtesy of Jakarta Post)
A recent protest in Indonesia by members of the anti-LGBTI Islam Defenders Front, or FPI (Photo courtesy of Jakarta Post)

The rights of all Indonesians are at greater risk following a Constitutional Court ruling this week that the central government could no longer repeal local Sharia (Islamic law) ordinances adopted in the country.

In recent years, the government had begun analyzing local regulations for compliance with Indonesia’s secular constitution, and pledged to repeal those that didn’t. “I want to underline that Indonesia is not a religiously-based country,” the home affairs minister said in 2015. But the government was tepid in its approach, steering clear of controversy by leaving Sharia ordinances intact.

What a missed opportunity.

The Constitutional Court on [April 12] deprived the Home Ministry of the power to abolish problematic local regulations – depriving the government of a check on those ordinances that threaten universal rights to freedom of expression and association. It also exposes the failure of the administration of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to turn its rhetoric about scrapping laws that flagrantly violate the rights of women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people into reality.

While Home Minister Tjahjo Kumolo claimed to have annulled more than 3,000 problematic local ordinances in 2015 and 2016, he later conceded that those eliminated only impacted investment and did not include abusive Sharia regulations. Those canceled were “problematic regional regulations” for violating the country’s credo of “unity in diversity,” not regulations that violated fundamental rights.

Now, after years of central government foot-dragging, the court has ruled that it cannot revoke any of those local ordinances.

President Jokowi has said only that he’ll find other ways to improve investment. But he will also need to explain how he’ll protect threatened minorities from abusive Sharia ordinances. Currently two men in Aceh are awaiting a public flogging sentence for homosexuality under local Sharia-inspired laws. The court ruling does not let Jokowi off the hook for failing to uphold Indonesia’s international legal obligations.

Jokowi will need, for the first time, to demonstrate real leadership against a rising tide of intolerance in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country. Minorities in Indonesia under threat of abusive Sharia statutes need a decisive signal from the president that he will ensure that “unity in diversity” extends to all Indonesians.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him at


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