Indonesia: Where new laws can cause widespread criminalization


In this photo taken on February 23, 2016 shows anti-LGBT Muslim group marching to blockade pro-LGBT protesters in Yogyakarta, in Java island. The small gay community in conservative, Muslim-majority Indonesia is facing a sudden and unexpected backlash, with ministers and religious leaders denouncing homosexuality, LGBT websites blocked and emboldened hardliners launching anti-gay raids. PHOTO/SURYO WIBOWO/AFP/Getty Images

The Indonesian parliament is currently considering amendments to the country’s Criminal Code that would effectively outlaw same-sex behavior and non-marital sex, including pre-marital and extramarital sex. If passed, the amendments would result in prison terms ranging from one to nine years for innumerable heterosexual individuals and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) adults in consensual sexual relationships outside of marriage. Criminalizing consenting adults in same sex relationships is not only a betrayal of Indonesians who are LGBT, but also a betrayal of all Indonesians who thought they were living in a tolerant country.

Conservative religious objections to homosexuality and lesbianism have always been a reality in Indonesia, but this time LGBT Indonesians would have to reckon with the force of the law. Since 2016, a coordinated campaign, involving high level government ministers, political parties, conservative media, and religious leaders, was launched against LGBT groups to spread suspicion, fear, and hate amongst the public. The results include home evictions, banning of LGBT students, prohibiting LGBT content on broadcast and online media, raids and arrests, public humiliation, and now a parliament that is poised to criminalize LGBT lives by criminalizing same sex relations.

This targeting of LGBT people is clearly a form of political maneuvering as politicians prepare for the 2019 national elections, where scapegoating of LGBT people is being used as a strategy to win votes. For such tactics to succeed, there has to be a mass base of people who are willing to disregard the wrongness of targeting people for having different loving and living arrangements. Unfortunately, since the 2016 defamatory campaigns, this mass base seems to be growing and anti-LGBT sentiment is spreading.

Currently, religious hardliners have galvanized the country against LGBT people, but it is not just this community that is being targeted. Hardliners have also been long time opponents of women’s rights across Indonesia. According to the Indonesian Commission on Violence Against Women, there are 421 discriminatory local by-laws that control how women dress, where they work and, in the province of Aceh, how late they can be outside at night. With the proposed amendments on adultery and premarital sex, women will become even more vulnerable because morality laws are generally used disproportionately against them.

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