The Baiturrahman Grand Mosque, a landmark in Banda Aceh
Two young women have been arrested in Indonesia on suspicion of being lesbian after they were seen embracing.
Human Rights Watch reports that the women, identified as AS, age 18, and N, age 19, were detained by Sharia morality police in Banda Aceh, the capital of the Aceh province on September 28.
It’s believed they were targeted after the pair were spotted hugging in a public place. A police official told reporters that they “suspected the women were lesbians.”
“The arrest of the women in Aceh for everyday behaviour is an outrageous abuse of police power that should be considered a threat to all Indonesians,” commented Graeme Reid, LGBT Rights Program Director at Human Rights Watch.
“The Indonesian government needs to press Aceh to repeal its discriminatory new by-laws,” he said.
Sources told the group that the two women remain in police custody, where officers are pressuring them to contact their families so that they may be released into their custody.
The province of Aceh’s criminal code, which went into effect in September 2014, prohibits lesbianism and sodomy.
While these offences do not exist in the Indonesian national criminal code, the Acehnese by-laws extend Sharia, or Islamic law, to non-Muslims, and the criminal code permits punishments of 100 lashes and 100 months in prison for consensual same-sex sex acts.
In 2010, the head of the Sharia police told the Indonesian media that, in his opinion, homosexuality is forbidden in Aceh whether or not a local law prohibiting it exists.
A 2014 United Nations report said that during the previous five years, “the situation for LGBT residents of Aceh and other marginalised communities has deteriorated.”
“Discriminatory laws and homophobic public rhetoric by officials create a climate of fear that stalks LGBT people in Aceh,” Reid said. “There is no place in Indonesia for such laws and government behaviour.”