Despite homosexuality not being illegal, up to 58 people have been arrested in a police raid on a so-called gay party in Indonesia.
A number of foreigners were among those detained in Friday’s raid on a Jakarta sauna popular with gay men.
It’s believed that most of those arrested have been released, but five to seven people, including staff members, are expected to be charged with violating the country’s law on pornography.
According to Human Rights Watch, this law prohibits acts such as sex parties, the use of pornography and “deviant sexual acts,” which is defined to include lesbian sex and male homosexual sex.
This is at least the fifth raid targeting LGBT people in private spaces in 2017, despite a pledge by Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo in October last year that “there should be no discrimination against anyone”.
While Indonesia has a reputation as a moderate Islamic country, there’s been an alarming spike in discrimination against LGBT people since January 2016. This has included harassment and arrests, abuse and intimidation by religious groups and homophobic condemnations and inflammatory statements by officials.
In one of the most high profile cases, unidentified vigilantes forcibly entered an apartment in Aceh province in March and took two men in their twenties to the police for allegedly having same-sex relations. Two months later, authorities publicly flogged the men.
In May, 141 men were arrested for attending a party at another gay sauna and gym in Jakarta. Ten were ultimately charged for holding an alleged sex party. Last month, police in a village in the West Java province conducted a raid on the homes of 12 “suspected lesbians”, forcing them from the area.
“It appears in such an environment of impunity for anti-LGBT abuses, the police have realised the vague and discriminatory pornography law can be used to target this already vulnerable minority,” said Andreas Harsono, Human Rights Watch Indonesia Researcher.
The anti-LGBT sentiment is largely based on conservative religious views surrounding homosexuality. Harsono told the The Financial Times about the latest raid: “I was there during the police questioning of the detainees, and to some extent they kept returning to religion, saying that all religions ban homosexuality, according to religion homosexuality is sinful, and so forth.”
Homosexuality is legal in Indonesia, although the national government allowed the Aceh province to introduce a by-law in 2014 through which those found guilty of homosexuality face up to 100 lashes.