In 2000, the Central Government of Indonesia granted provinces the right to self govern and have autonomy from the Central Government to establish independent legislative councils and enact local laws, known as regional regulations.
A new report by OutRight Action International, Creeping Criminalisation, maps Indonesia’s national laws and the departure of regional regulations from national laws in eight provinces. It finds that regional regulations violate human rights of women, and of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people and do not coincide with national level legislation and even the Constitution. The regional regulations, passed by province, district or city-level governments, are heavily influenced by the encroachment of fundamentalist interpretations of Islam, specifically, Wahhabi Islam that is exported and financially resourced by Saudi Arabia.
Moral Sexual Panic
One year ago in January 2016, an unexpected wave of state sponsored homophobia proliferated across Indonesia’s capital and spread across the country. The campaign began as an effort to ban lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organizations from Indonesian campuses, but escalated rapidly. Government officials and fundamentalist organizations began an all out attack on LGBT people, proclaiming LGBT people as morally depraved and mentally ill, condemning LGBT groups as a national security threat, a proxy war worse than a nuclear attack, and propagating LGBT people as a danger to children.
Media fuelled the growing moral sexual panic. Prominent politicians used media to spread anti-LGBT messages, such as calling for a ban on LGBT people or urging “rehabilitation” for LGBT communities. These messages soon prompted vigilantism in different provinces across Indonesia. For instance, in the city of Bandung in West Java, Muslim religious vigilantes raided neighborhoods and targeted women with shared housing arrangements, accusing them of lesbianism, although women sharing housing is a common practice, In the province of Yogyakarta, Front Jihad Islam, a violent fundamentalist group, forced a Muslim religious school for waria (transwomen) to permanently shut down. Often viewed as fundamentalist thugs, the group asserted that waria should stop reciting the Quran and “repent their sinful ways.” They organized other violent confrontations during peaceful LGBT gatherings.
Although many Indonesians and LGBTI activists internationally were shocked by the organized manner in which the 2016 campaign was carried out, it is in fact part of the alarming and dangerous trend that has been underway for over ten years. This is evidenced by discriminatory legislation that has slowly proliferated across the country, criminalizing LGBTI people and women on subjective accusations of “individual sin,” destabilizing social harmony.
One impact of the discriminatory regulations is the view that relationships (heterosexual and same sex) outside of marriage are considered adultery and/or prostitution, deemed indecent, immoral, and as disrupting public order. Definitions of these terms are broad and subject to arbitrary interpretation. For instance, findings in Creeping Criminalisation show that religious leaders, religious officials, and community leaders deciding on criminality and punishment, often base their decisions on personal bias instead of the law. They act as moral police, using the legislation to impose their own interpretations of Islam on practicing Muslims. Punishments include jail terms and fines, in some instances coupled with public shaming, and in the province of Aceh, caning.
Supposedly A Moderate Muslim Country
Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world and is considered a moderate Muslim country. The imposition of Wahhabi Islam onto Indonesians sharply contrasts with the moderate interpretation of Islam that most Indonesians practice.
Women’s rights, LGBT rights, and human rights activists decry the dangerous and harmful trend of religious fundamentalism creeping into the country and say that it is transforming Indonesia into an ultra conservative Islamic state. Wahhabism has displaced local Indonesian Muslim practices and traditions, negatively impacting women’s dress styles, space for women’s autonomy, space for Islamic discourse, and tolerance for LGBT individuals. In fact, religious leaders who advocate Wahhabism silence questioning and debate on these issues even by practicing Muslims, shrinking religious freedom and freedom of opinion and expression.
Since the anti-LGBT campaign started, an anti-LGBT bill, which previously had limited support among Parliamentarians, has gained traction. Some activists in the country fear it could pass, and if it does, consenting Indonesians in same sex relationships will, for the first time, be federally criminalized for being lesbian, gay or bisexual.
In addition, a conservative Muslim family values group has asked the Constitutional Court to include adult consenting same sex relations as a punishable offense under the Criminal Code, Indonesia’s equivalent to the Penal Code. It currently does not prohibit homosexuality and lesbianism.
If these measures succeed, the national laws will no longer serve as the higher standard for regional regulations.
The authors of the report, Creeping Criminalisation, make note of the few Indonesian Muslim religious leaders and scholars who have called for a human rights-based approach to Islam, and say that LGBT communities must not be oppressed, and must be protected as they are also Indonesian citizens.
Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, commonly referred to as President Jokowi, who remained silent for ten months while the campaign of homophobia raged, publicly declared in October 2016 that homosexuality should not be criminalized and that police should defend LGBTI people against violence. One beacon of hope against the creeping criminalization of women and LGBT people is in the Presidential authority to revoke regional regulations which do not align with national level laws and which violate the Constitution. In 2016, President Jokowi annulled over 3000 regional regulations. It is uncertain if any of these revoked laws are the discriminatory, morality-based, regional regulations that target LGBTI people and women in general. Whether President Jokowi will uphold rule of law and revoke laws and regulations that curtail and violate LGBTI Indonesians, is yet to be seen.