Not illegal to be gay, but police are cracking down
JAKARTA, Indonesia — In Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, homosexuality is legal and the state largely stays out of issues of private morality. But as conservative religious groups become more prominent in political life here, police are increasingly finding other ways to crack down on LGBT communities.
This weekend they arrested 58 Indonesians and foreigners at a Jakarta sauna popular with gay men, allegedly for violating the country’s pornography laws. Indonesia’s pornography legislation — passed in 2008 and often criticized by legal experts and human rights activists for being too vague — technically prohibits any public depiction of sex for profit, but in practice it is often used against politically vulnerable groups.
“We’ve increasingly seen police targeting LGBT groups using pornography laws,” said Ricky Gunawan, the director of the Community Legal Aid Institute in Jakarta. In fact, last week’s incident was the third of its kind that has been reported this year. In April, police in the city of Surabaya broke up a party at a hotel for similar reasons, arresting 14 men, and in May, 141 men were arrested at a sauna in Jakarta.
“These communities have always been targeted by police, but we’ve seen this worsen since 2016, when a number of highlevel politicians made statements portraying LGBT communities as immoral or a threat to the nation,” Gunawan said.
There have been several public comments that may have led police to believe a crackdown was in order, but the most famous was probably delivered by Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu, who said last year that the LGBT agenda was like a “proxy war” threatening national sovereignty.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said last year that the job of police was to defend LGBT communities and other groups from discrimination, but he has largely stayed on the sidelines of the debate as the crackdown has intensified.