Indonesia’s president says police must protect LGBT people

President Joko Widodo

President Joko Widodo

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo has finally addressed the growing onslaught against LGBT people in his country, the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Human rights observers have become increasingly alarmed at a series of attacks against LGBT equality by government officials and politicians over the past year.

Speaking to the BBC, Widodo offered a mixed message, insisting that LGBT people should not be discriminated against, although adding that this had to be seen in the context of the nation’s religious and cultural values.

“The police must act [to protect LGBT people]. There should be no discrimination against anyone,” he affirmed.

While, homosexuality is legal in most of Indonesia, it is not in the Aceh province. Asked about calls to criminalise same-sex sexuality nationwide, President Widodo said that he does not believe this is needed.

He, however, went on to seemingly offer some justification for discrimination, explaining that when it comes to homosexuality “the people of Indonesia have a culture and have norms, and in Indonesia, beliefs (generally) do not allow it. Islam does not allow it”.

This rather ambiguous support for the rights of LGBT people was nevertheless welcomed by Kyle Knight, LGBT researcher at Human Rights Watch.

He told Time: “Jokowi’s long-overdue statement in support of LGBT nondiscrimination is a breath of fresh air as Indonesian officials and politicians continue their abusive and ill-informed homophobic onslaught. A logical next step would be to repeal discriminatory anti-LGBT directives [by government institutions].”

A government advert for a youth ambassador recently made headlines when it specified that applicants could not be LGBT. There have also been calls by local government and education officials for discriminatory anti-LGBT measures, including banning LGBT student groups on university campuses.

Communication and broadcasting bureaucrats recently moved to block any LGBT content in the media and have ordered social media and messaging apps to remove same-sex themed emoticons from their services or be banned from the country.

Alarmingly, even Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu claimed that LGBT people were a threat to the country and its sovereignty.

Indonesia’s national government as recently as 2015 allowed the semi-autonomous Aceh province to introduce a local by-law through which those found guilty of homosexuality face up to 100 lashes and up to 100 months in prison.

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