Gay community in Indonesia targeted by pre-marital sex ban

Gay community in Indonesia targeted by pre-marital sex ban
Indonesia seeks to push forward a draft law clamping down on sex outside marriage, stoking fears for Indonesia's LGBT community.
3 min read
09 February, 2018
Discrimination is common across Indonesia, but particularly severe in the autonomous Aceh province [Getty]

As part of a sweeping criminal law overhaul, Indonesia is pushing to clamp down on gay and pre-martial sex, a move slammed by critics on a wave of religious fundamentalism sweeping across the world's biggest Muslim-majority nation.

The proposals which are being drawn up ahead of the 2019 presidential elections, have received widespread support from the population after earlier attempts to shake up the Dutch-colonial era laws petered away.

All major political parties are reportedly on board with the proposed laws Parliament is drawing up, and the draft is expected to be tabled in the coming months.

While large sections of the Indonesian society will be impacted, including couples who have sex outside marriage, Indonesia's LGBT community is expected to feel the heat the most.

"Some politicians see it as an opportunity to cater to the religious base," said political analyst Yuventius Nicky to AFP, "there's this supposed morality threat that is being queer."

Recently, government officials, religious hardliners and influential Islamic groups have appeared in public making anti-LGBT statements. Officials have been using the country's strict anti-pornography laws in a string of raids against the LGBT community, and last month, Google pulled one of the world's largest gay dating apps from the Indonesian version of its online store in response to government demands.

Parliamentary speaker, Bambang Soesatyo, called for a crackdown on the community's "excesses" after the health ministry's announcement that it will release a medical guide classifying homosexuality as a 'mental disorder'.

With the exception of Aceh, homosexuality is currently legal everywhere in secular Indonesia. Aceh, which is located on Sumatra island, has been ruled by conservative Islamic law since being granted special autonomy in 2001 – an attempt by Indonesia's central government to stifle a long-running separatist insurgency.

In December, a petition to ban all sex outside of marriage, effectively criminalising homosexuality, was narrowly defeated by Indonesia's Constitutional Court.

'Hateful Rhetoric'

UN human rights chief blasted Indonesia's proposed laws this week and raised them in talks with President Joko Widodo this week.

"The hateful rhetoric against this (LGBT) community that is being cultivated seemingly for cynical political purposes will only deepen their suffering and create unnecessary divisions," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein told reporters.

He added: "Any discriminatory provisions (in the new law) need to be removed."

The latest draft carries a five-year jail term for extramarital sex, as well as carrying penalties for "showing or offering contraception tools without authorisation" and calls for stiffer blasphemy sentences.  

Rita Soebagio, leader of the Family Love Alliance, a lobby group against homosexuality, told AFP, "gay sex is deplorable"

Alarming trend

Late last month, Indonesian police hit the headlines after they forcibly cut the hair of a group of transgender women, forced them to wear male clothes and told them to speak in a masculine voice.

Police in the conservative Aceh province raided several beauty salons and rounded up a dozen transgender employees following reports they had teased a group of boys.

"Their [transgenders] numbers are growing here – I don't want that," said Ahmad Untung Surianata, the local police chief.

Police accused the beauty salon employees of violating the province's religious laws – the employees will be held for several days, followed by a five-day "training regimen" and "morals teaching," authorities added.

Human rights lawyer Ricky Gunawan told AFP that if these laws are passed, police would have "legitimate reasons or basis for them to conduct these kinds of raids".

"This is a worrying and alarming trend of persecution against LGBT and other minorities.

Last month, a poll found that nearly 90 percent of Indonesians felt "threatened" by the LGBT community, while a 2013 Pew survey found 72 percent of Indonesian Muslims supported replacing the secular code with Islamic law.