Indonesian police in Jakarta raided a sauna popular with gay men on Friday night, arresting 51 people. It's the latest in a slew of actions targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in the country.
Most of those arrested were released Saturday, but police have detained five employees of the sauna – four men and a woman – who face charges of violating the Law on Pornography. That law prohibits such acts as sex parties, the use of pornography, and “deviant sexual acts,” which is defined to include: sex with corpses, sex with animals, oral sex, anal sex, lesbian sex, and male homosexual sex.
This is at least the fifth raid targeting LGBT people in private spaces in 2017. On March 28, unidentified vigilantes forcibly entered an apartment in Aceh province and took two men in their twenties to the police for allegedly having same-sex relations. Two months later, authorities publicly flogged the two young men. On April 30, police raided a private gathering of gay and bisexual men in Surabaya, arrested and detained 14 of them, and subjected them to HIV tests without consent. On May 21, police raided the Atlantis Spa in Jakarta, arrested 141 people, and charged 10 for holding an alleged sex party. On June 8, police in Medan apprehended five “suspected lesbians” and ordered their parents to supervise them – and shared a video of the raid and the names of the five women with reporters. And on September 2, police in West Java province entered the private home of 12 women they suspected to be lesbians, and forcibly evicted them from the village.
Anti-LGBT incidents across Indonesia have significantly increased since a January 2016 spike in noxious rhetoric from public officials and politicians. In October 2016, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo broke his long silence on escalating anti-LGBT rhetoric and violence 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.” In September, Indonesia announced at the United Nations Human Rights Council that the government would “take further steps to ensure a safe and enabling environment for all human rights defenders,” including LGBT activists, and implement freedom of expression, association, and assembly rights – including for LGBT people.
But despite such promises from Indonesia’s leaders, they have taken no action. And it appears in such an environment of impunity for anti-LGBT abuses, the police have realized the vague and discriminatory pornography law can be used to target this already vulnerable minority.