Jakarta summons UK envoy after flying of rainbow flag angers conservative groups

Arie Firdaus
Jakarta summons UK envoy after flying of rainbow flag angers conservative groups Participants display placards during a demonstration to mark International Day Against Homophobia in Jakarta on May 17, 2008.

Indonesia summoned Britain’s envoy on Monday after the United Kingdom’s embassy came under fire from conservative Muslim groups and politicians here for flying a rainbow flag in support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community.

Homosexuality is not a crime in Indonesia, the world’s largest Islamic-majority country, but many Muslims view it as a vice. Gay sex is only a crime in Aceh province, where a version of Islamic law, or sharia, is in force.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah told BenarNews that British Ambassador Owen Jenkins answered the summons and was told that the embassy’s move was “utterly insensitive.” Teuku declined to say what Jenkins had told ministry officials.

“The action, along with its publication via the embassy’s official social media account, shows an utter lack of sensitivity and has created a polemic in society,” he said in a statement.

“The Foreign Ministry would like to remind foreign representatives to be mindful of and respect cultural and religious sensitivities that are prevalent in Indonesia,” he said. 

The embassy had also posted a rainbow flag photo on Instagram last week 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 strongest, safest and most prosperous societies give everyone room to live freely as who they really are, without fear of violence or discrimination. …Sometimes it is important to take a stand for what you think is right, even if disagreement between friends can be uncomfortable.

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.”

Fahmi Salim, a member of the Indonesian Council of Muslim Scholars (MUI), a semi-official council of clerics, said the embassy’s action could further fuel antipathy towards “pro-LGBT promotion and propaganda.”

“It is unseemly for an embassy to disrespect cultural and religious values of its host country,” Fahmi told TVOne news broadcaster.

“The foreign ministry’s summons to the ambassador is the right move,” he said.

Tubagus Hasanuddin, a legislator from the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, said that although the embassy is the sovereign territory of the U.K., the raising of the rainbow flag was a “cultural provocation.”

“The British should have been more sensitive,” CNN Indonesia quoted him as saying.

Yahya Cholil Staquf, chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama, the country’s largest Islamic organization, declined to wade into the controversy. 

“It’s their business, not ours,” he was quoted as saying in the Indonesian media. 

A U.K. embassy spokeswoman could not be reached for comment. 


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