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Indonesia’s most influential Muslim clerical organization has stigmatized the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) population by declaring them “deviant” and an affront to the “dignity of Indonesia.”

The semi-official Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) recently issued a fatwa, or religious edict, calling for same-sex acts to be punished by caning up to the death penalty. The fatwa equates homosexuality with a curable disease with related sexual acts “that must be heavily punished.”

The MUI’s intolerance and encouragement of prosecution of a minority population should come as no surprise. The MUI issued a similarly dangerous fatwa in 2005 against the country’s Ahmadiyah community. That fatwa held that the Ahmadiyah, an Islamic revivalist movement, deviated from Quranic teachings. The government responded to that fatwa in 2008 by passing a nationwide anti-Ahmadiyah decree that bans the Ahmadiyah from proselytizing their faith. Since then, Islamist militants have repeatedly attacked the Ahmadiyah community, often with the passive or active involvement of government officials and security forces.

The MUI anti-LGBT fatwa mirrors the bigotry of two bylaws passed by the Aceh provincial government in September 2014 that create new discriminatory offenses that do not exist in the Indonesian national criminal code. The bylaws extend Sharia, or Islamic law, to non-Muslims, criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual acts as well as all zina (sexual relations outside of marriage). The criminal code permits as punishment up to 100 lashes and up to 100 months in prison for consensual same-sex sex acts, while zina violations carry a penalty of 100 lashes.

Those bylaws and other laws drawn from discriminatory fatwas violate fundamental human rights guaranteed under core international human rights treaties to which Indonesia is party. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Indonesia ratified in 2005, protects the rights to privacy and family and freedom of expression. The covenant also prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, and other status such as sexual orientation, as well as medieval-style punishments such as whipping that are cruel or inhuman.

The government of President Joko Widodo should be clear that it will act to abolish any laws that target minority populations and prosecute those who commit violence against them.  A loud statement of support for the rights of Indonesia’s LGBT population would be an important place to start.


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