Indonesia’s top Islamic clerics object to US LGBTQ rights envoy’s visit

Tria Dianti and Arie Firdaus
2022.12.01
Jakarta
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Indonesia’s top Islamic clerics object to US LGBTQ rights envoy’s visit Anti-LGBT demonstrators hold up signs during a march in Bogor, Indonesia, Nov. 9, 2018.
Sandika Fadilah Rusdani/AFP

Indonesia’s top Muslim clerical body on Thursday spoke out against a planned visit by the American LGBTQ rights envoy, saying it would not welcome a guest “whose intention is to undermine our nation’s cultural and religious values.” 

Same-gender sex is not a criminal offense in Indonesia except in its Aceh province, but the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation has seen growing anti-LGBTQ sentiment.

Jessica Stern, the U.S. special envoy to advance the rights of LGBTQI+ persons, is scheduled to visit Indonesia on Dec. 7, after trips to Vietnam and the Philippines, the State Department said. LGBTQI+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex persons.

During her Southeast Asia trip, Stern will reportedly meet with government officials and civil society representatives to discuss “advancing the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons,” the department said on its website.

The Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) Deputy Chairman Anwar Abbas said the organization “categorically rejects the visit by the special envoy.”

The MUI “cannot welcome a guest whose purpose in coming here is to damage and undermine the noble religious and cultural values ​​of our nation,” Anwar said, calling homosexual behavior “dangerous.”

“If this behavior is tolerated, it will lead to humanity’s extinction, because if men marry men and women marry women, they will not reproduce,” he said.

MUI Chairman Cholil Nafis, a board member at Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s largest Islamic organization, tweeted that Indonesian officials should “not to take the time to meet the LGBT envoy.”

Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said he had no details on Stern’s visit and declined to comment about the opposition to her trip.

Although same-gender sex is not illegal, discrimination against the LGBTQ community appears to be on the rise in the Southeast Asian country.

In May, the government 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.

In Aceh, the only province that applies Islamic law in Indonesia, same-gender couples have been caned after sharia courts found them guilty of being intimate.

The Indonesian military, which bans same-gender sex as “inappropriate behavior,” recently imposed seven-month prison sentences on two soldiers for having physical relations, according to Agence France-Presse news agency. In addition, the soldiers were kicked out of the army.

Meanwhile, rights activists are concerned about the new draft criminal code bill set to pass this month that could criminalize so-called deviant sexual behavior and sex out of wedlock.

MUI’s statement ‘disrespectful’

Indonesia is not just the MUI, said Dede Oetomo, a university lecturer and LGBTQ rights advocate, who added that he had been invited to an online audience with the U.S. envoy next week.

“Indonesia is diverse. There are also people who are gay,” Dede told BenarNews.

He called the MUI’s statement on Stern’s visit “disrespectful” and “not in accordance with the etiquette of international relations.”

Andreas Harsono, an Indonesia researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), said the MUI had no power to stop Stern from visiting Indonesia.

“In any good country, someone like Jessica Stern … is welcomed to visit especially as she is going to talk about an important issue,” he told BenarNews.

“LGBT rights – whether you like it or not – is a very important issue.”

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