Two homosexual men were sentenced to 82 whips by the Shariah Court in Banda Aceh, Indonesia on May 23, 2017. Aceh is the only province in Indonesia that enforces Islamic law.

© 2017 Sipa via AP Images

(Jakarta) – Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s government is failing to confront increasing intolerance that has led to discrimination and violence against the country’s most vulnerable minorities, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2018.

Religious minorities face discriminatory laws and regulations as well as harassment, intimidation, and violence from Islamist militants. In early 2017, the Ministry of Religious Affairs drafted a religious rights bill that would further entrench the country’s blasphemy law as well as discriminatory government decrees, including one that prevents religious minorities from obtaining permits to construct houses of worship. On May 9, a Jakarta court sentenced former Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Christian, to a two-year prison sentence for blasphemy against Islam.

“Jokowi’s government is turning a blind eye to worsening harassment of religious and sexual minorities,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director. “Officials are using the dangerously ambiguous blasphemy law to target certain religious groups, while the police are carrying out invasive raids against LGBT people.” 

Officials are using the dangerously ambiguous blasphemy law to target certain religious groups, while the police are carrying out invasive raids against LGBT people.

Phelim Kine

Deputy Asia Director

In the 643-page World Report, its 28th edition, Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries. In his introductory essay, Executive Director Kenneth Roth writes that political leaders willing to stand up for human rights principles showed that it is possible to limit authoritarian populist agendas. When combined with mobilized publics and effective multilateral actors, these leaders demonstrated that the rise of anti-rights governments is not inevitable.

Following a 2016 deluge of government-driven rhetoric against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, authorities in 2017 targeted private gatherings and LGBT individuals – a serious threat to privacy and public health initiatives in the country.

The government took no action against security force officials and powerful thugs who sought to stifle discussion of reconciliation effort for the 1965-66 massacres in which the military and military-backed militias killed an estimated 500,000 to 1 million suspected communists and ethnic Chinese. In August, Indonesian police and military personnel forced the cancellation of a public workshop on financial compensation for survivors and victims’ families. On September 16, authorities prevented the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute from hosting a seminar about the massacres.

Indonesian security force personnel rarely face justice for serious abuses, including killings. In September, a police ethics inquiry ruled that four officers who deliberately fired on Papuan protesters in the Deiyai region on August 1, killing a young man, were guilty of “improper conduct” and ruled that their punishment should be limited to demotions and public apologies rather than criminal prosecution. At the same time, Papuans and Moluccans remain imprisoned on “treason” charges for participating in nonviolent protests against the government.

Indonesia’s official Commission on Violence against Women reports that there are hundreds of discriminatory national and local regulations targeting women. They include local laws compelling women and girls to don the jilbab, or headscarf, in schools, government offices, and public spaces. In November, senior military and police officers confirmed that the security forces have not halted cruel and discriminatory “virginity tests” for female job applicants. The tests are officially classified as “psychological” examinations, for “mental health and morality reasons.”

“In the coming year President Jokowi should demonstrate leadership by ensuring justice for the victims of abuses, whether 50 years ago or today,” Kine said. “The failure to hold those responsible for rights violations to account will place many more vulnerable people at risk in the future.”