Indonesia: Release Gay Men at Risk of Torture

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

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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.

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 criminalise 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 behaviour and activities of the gay community, because their behaviour 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.”

In April 2016, four United Nations special rapporteurs wrote to the Indonesian government expressing concerns about the abusive enforcement of Sharia against LGBT people, and sought the government’s response. The government has yet to respond.

Aceh’s discriminatory Sharia ordinances violate fundamental human rights guaranteed under core international human rights treaties to which Indonesia is party. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Indonesia ratified in 2005, protects the rights to privacy and family (article 17), and freedom of religion (article 18) and expression (article 19). The covenant prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, and other status such as sexual orientation (article 2). It also prohibits punishments such as whipping that amount to torture or cruel and inhuman punishment (article 7).

Anti-LGBT incidents across Indonesia have significantly increased since January 2016 and included police raids on suspected gatherings of gay men, attacks on LGBT activists, and vitriolic anti-LGBT rhetoric from officials and politicians. In October, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo broke his long silence on escalating anti-LGBT rhetoric by defending the rights of the country’s LGBT community. He declared that “the police must act” against actions by bigoted groups or individuals to harm LGBT people or deny them their rights, and that “there should be no discrimination against anyone.” However, Jokowi has not backed up that statement with action.

“President Jokowi should urgently intervene is this case to demonstrate his stated commitment to ending discrimination against LGBT people,” Kine said.  “Jokowi then needs to act to eliminate Aceh’s discriminatory ordinances so these outrageous arrests don’t happen again.”

Photo By אנדר-ויק (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons