Depok LGBT Raids: Hold Indonesian Government Accountable For Discriminatory Discourse

On January 13, the National Commission of Human Rights (Komnas HAM) sent an official letter to the mayor of Depok which criticized the issued regulation ordering routine raids against the town’s LGBT community, commissioner Beka Ulang Hapsan reported in her written statement. Mayor Mohammad Idris asked police to search properties, rented homes and apartments in the city, in addition to encouraging residents to report signs of “immoral acts,” to clamp down on pro-LGBTI behavior and activities.

Labelling the crackdown as a “prevention toward the spread of LGBT,” his orders were motivated by the Indonesian student Reynhard Sinaga’s life sentence after recently being convicted of raping the 136 men he drugged. Depok being Sinaga’s hometown, Idris had also planned to open re-education centers to “assist victims” in the LGBT community.

Mirroring the outrage this incited from human rights groups, Amnesty International Indonesia’s Executive Director Usman Hamid called for an immediate halt to this “vicious” campaign. “Criminalizing LGBTs violates the rights to a private and family life, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly.” Contending that there “can be no justification for these hateful raids,” he called on the Indonesian government to “repeal all laws that criminalize specific gender identities and expressions.” Beka Ulang Hapsan also told UCA News that “the government should respect, protect, and fulfill the rights of all citizens, including LGBTs.”

Although this government-sanctioned homophobic climate in Indonesia can be traced back to a nationwide anti-LGBT “moral panic” that has been escalating since early 2016, this regressive discourse triggered by Sinaga’s conviction is worrying, especially given past examples of public officials themselves propagating disparaging philosophies into wider Indonesian society. In January 2018, the Indonesian air force’s Twitter feed “went on a bizarre and hateful anti-LGBT screed,” with failure to publicly confirm their stand for such “discriminatory invective,” as Human Rights Watch’s report in 2018 stated. Dede Oetemo, a veteran gay rights activist, laments the damaging impact of these regressions especially on young queer people – they “will internalize these media messages and think they are wrong; they are sinners.”

At the least, the Indonesian government must implement systematic efforts to curb unabated discriminatory discourse. Hateful government statements and vicious anti-LGBT rhetoric must be accounted for. As the joint statement issued by the coalition of 16 LGBT and human rights groups clamored for, Sinaga’s actions must be condemned – however, his crimes must not be used to incite hatred. The backlash is focusing on sexual orientation when it should be denouncing the rape. “Blaming sexual orientation for one’s criminal actions is an attempt to turn the issue of sexual violence into hate against vulnerable LGBT groups.” Lini Zurlia, a prominent queer rights activist in Jakarta, mirrors this position, stating that this has affected LGBT individuals on a community level, as “some of them are getting emotionally attacked from their family as if being gay is ‘to be like Sinaga.’” Rather than criminalizing sexual orientation, the media and discourse must remind everyone that sexual violence is, has been, and can be committed by and to anyone irrespective of their orientation and sex.

As the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein warned in his February 2018 visit to Indonesia, “the hateful rhetoric against this community that is being cultivated seemingly for cynical political purposes will only deepen their suffering and create unnecessary divisions.” The Indonesian government must “uphold its commitments to ‘unity in diversity’ by halting and investigating unlawful police raids and ensure discrimination is not enshrined in its laws.”