Last week, police in South Sulawesi province canceled a public sports and cultural event involving transgender people after the Islamic Congregation Forum, a militant Islamist organisation, complained the event violated “religious values.” Police added insult to injury by temporarily detaining 600 transgender and bissu (a gender-neutral identity in South Sulawesi’s Bugis tradition) people hours before the three-day event was scheduled to begin.
This is the latest incident in which Indonesian police have openly collaborated with militant Islamists to unlawfully disrupt LGBT-related events and harass and intimidate LGBT people who attend them. In November, the Islamic Defenders Front (or FPI), a militant group with a well-earned reputation for harassment and violence against minorities, led police to raid a gathering of men for a so-called “sex party.” In January 2016, the FPI brought police to a hotel in Jakarta and urged them to shut down a training session about access to justice for LGBT people.
Homosexuality has never been illegal in Indonesia, though petitioners to the Constitutional Court are trying to change that. Tolerance of diversity has long been a government catchphrase – but one repeatedly unmet. Militant Islamist groups have a history of physical assaults on vulnerable minorities with the explicit or implicit blessing of high-ranking officials – crimes that go unpunished.
Ultra-nationalistic fervor opens space for attacks on minorities as a way of gaining popular attention; weak political leadership in Indonesia has failed repeatedly to put a lid on it. Close ties between militant Islamist groups and law enforcement continue to create an environment of widespread social sanction and impunity from prosecution for attacks on minorities.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo should deliver on his stated commitment to defend the rights of LGBT people by making it clear to the Indonesian police they are obligated to protect the rights of all Indonesians, including the country’s LGBT population, rather than conspire with their oppressors.
Written by Kyle Knight