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National police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian and President Joko Widodo at Karnavian’s inauguration in Jakarta, Indonesia, on July 13, 2016. © 2016 Reuters

(New York) – Indonesia’s national police force should immediately investigate recent raids by local law enforcement on gatherings of gay men, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to national police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian. Indonesia’s police leadership should commit to ending the targeting of sexual minorities and uphold their obligation to protect everyone’s basic rights without discrimination.

“Indonesia’s police raids against LGBT people are part of a disturbing pattern of rights abuses that strike fear into already-marginalized communities,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The national police need to stop these raids to restore public confidence that the police will do their duty to protect all Indonesians.”

On April 30, 2017, police raided a private gathering of gay and bisexual men in the city of Surabaya, arrested and detained 14 men, and subjected them to HIV tests without their consent. On May 21, police raided the Atlantis Spa in Jakarta, arrested 141 people, and charged 10 for holding an alleged sex party. Officers allegedly paraded the suspects naked in front of media and interrogated them still unclothed, a claim the police deny. And on May 24, the West Java police chief, Gen. Anton Charliyan, announced plans to create a special unit within the police force to detect and punish lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.

Indonesia’s national police force oversees all regional and municipal police forces in the country and is ultimately responsible for their actions. National police chief Karnavian reports directly to President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

Anti-LGBT incidents across Indonesia have significantly increased since January 2016 and included police raids – sometimes in collusion with militant Islamists – on suspected gatherings of gay men, closure of public transgender events, attacks on LGBT activists, and vitriolic anti-LGBT rhetoric from officials and politicians. In October, Jokowi broke his long silence on escalating anti-LGBT rhetoric by defending the rights of the country’s LGBT community. He declared that “the police must act” against actions by bigoted groups or individuals to harm LGBT people or deny them their rights, and that “there should be no discrimination against anyone.”

Police carried out the recent raids in Surabaya and Jakarta under Indonesia’s 2008 anti-pornography law, which is discriminatory in content as it specifically includes “lesbian sex” and “male homosexual sex” as “deviant sexual acts,” alongside sex with corpses and sex with animals. The law contravenes international human rights law applicable to Indonesia, as it expressly discriminates against gay men and lesbians. It is also contrary to the views of the World Health Organization and mental health bodies globally, which regard same-sex orientation as a normal variant of human sexuality.

“The police’s use of a discriminatory so-called anti-pornography law as a pretext to raid private gatherings exposes the crude bigotry of their actions,” Adams said. “President Jokowi put the police on notice about protecting LGBT people. Now he needs to make sure they act on it.”

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