Indonesia may outlaw gay sex amid growing anti-LGBTQ sentiment

Dandy Koswaraputra
2022.05.24
Jakarta
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Indonesia may outlaw gay sex amid growing anti-LGBTQ sentiment A hooded sharia enforcer prepares to strike a man convicted of gay sex in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, May 23, 2017.
Nurdin Hasan/BenarNews

Indonesia’s parliament is debating a bill that would outlaw so-called deviant sexual behavior, raising alarm among human rights activists about a possible increase in violence against LGBTQ people.

Homosexuality and extramarital sex are not outlawed in Muslim-majority Indonesia, but some among the more conservative followers of Islam here view them as vices. It is only in Aceh province where a version of Islamic law, or sharia, is in force, punishable by up to 100 lashes of the cane.

However, a contentious new bill to amend Indonesia’s criminal code contains provisions that would criminalize sex outside marriage, including homosexual acts, said Kurniasih Mufidayati, a lawmaker involved in deliberating the bill that may be passed in July.

“Yes, it’s true [there are clauses in the draft bill under which extramarital sex] is subjected to criminal punishment ... LGBT included,” she told BenarNews on Tuesday.

She also said there were clauses criminalizing “deviant sexual behavior.”

“Allowing promiscuity is against … the constitution,” she added, but declined to give details.

Bill discussion on Wednesday

Anti-LGBT sentiment has been growing in Indonesia lately.

On Monday, Indonesia summoned the United Kingdom’s envoy after the British embassy came under fire from conservative Muslim groups and politicians here for flying a rainbow flag in support of sexual minorities.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah called the embassy’s move “utterly insensitive.” 

Last week, the embassy also had posted a rainbow flag photo on Instagram to mark the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, with text that said: “The U.K. will champion LGBT+ rights and support those who defend them … LGBT+ rights are fundamental human rights.

The post led to a flurry of criticism from conservative Muslim leaders and politicians, who accused the British embassy of disrespecting “Indonesian values and norms.”

Earlier this month, there was a public backlash against a popular YouTube talk show hosted by an Indonesian celebrity that featured a gay couple. The host was forced to remove the video and later apologized.

In a Twitter exchange with a conservative Muslim politician who called for action against homosexuality prompted by this episode, a minister, Mohammad Mahfud MD, said he had advocated for the inclusion of extramarital sex and same-sex relations in the criminal code since 2017.

“But you guys [lawmakers] still have not passed it. We can’t take legal action until there is a legal basis. When will it be passed? We’ll wait,” tweeted the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs.

The proposed amendments to the criminal code did not specifically mention LGBT but they called for criminal penalties against anyone engaging in same-sex activity “in certain circumstances and ways,” Mahfud MD also said. He did not elaborate. 

Last week, he called on those who object to its contents to challenge it at the Constitutional Court.

On Monday, Deputy Law and Human Rights Minister Edward Hiariej said there was no mention of “LGBT” in the draft bill.

He said officials from his ministry would meet with lawmakers to discuss the bill on Wednesday.

‘Violation of human rights’

To outlaw same-sex relations would violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Indonesia has ratified, according to Johanna Purba, a researcher at the Center for Legal and Policy Studies.

“Criminaliz[ing] someone because of their sexual orientation is a violation of human rights and interferes with the right to privacy,” Johanna told BenarNews.

Dede Oetomo, an activist for gay rights, criticized Mahfud MD for advocating the outlawing of homosexual relations at a time when more countries have started to recognize the rights of sexual minorities.

“He disrespects the principle of separation of religion and state that the late Gus Dur embraced,” the news site Tempo.co quoted Dede as saying, referring to former President Abdurrahman Wahid, who died in 2009.

A member of NGO Crisis Response Mechanism, Riska Carolina, said she was surprised by Mahfud MD’s comments, according to a report by Tempo.

“I don’t know what Mahfud MD’s agenda is, but thanks to him, the potential for violence, discrimination, and hatred against gender minorities will only increase,” Tempo quoted her as saying.

“He is a state [minister], what he says will have major effects on gender and sexual minorities.”

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