This week a militant Islamist group in Indonesia raided the offices of an HIV prevention organization on suspicion that the group had been conducting “LGBT activities.” The Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) was joined by Indonesian soldiers and local residents in an incident that follows a disturbing pattern of similar vigilante raids across Indonesia. 

Sebuah kelompok yang menentang komunitas Lesbian, Gay dan Transjender (LGBT) sedang bersiap untuk menghadapi kelompok pro-LGBT yang melakukan protes tandingan di Monumen Tugu, Yogyakarta, pada 23 Pebruari.

© 2016 Andreas Fitri Atmoko/Antara

Mulyadi Anwar, a member of the city council in Pekanbaru in eastern Sumatra, orchestrated the raid and boasted about it in an anti-LGBT message on his re-election campaign Facebook page. Mulyadi acknowledged that the organization provides condoms and counseling for sex workers and waria (roughly translated as transgender women). However, he said: “[The organization] is for HIV prevention but we still cannot accept it. They still do vice activities. We are closing this place.”

For three years Indonesia has been engulfed by a government-driven moral panic about gender and sexuality. Politicians, government officials, and state offices have issued anti-LGBT statements calling for criminalization of homosexuality, censorship of LGBT-related information, and other threats to the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

Tensions began across the country in January 2016, when Indonesia’s higher education minister, Mohammed Nasir, tweeted that he wanted to ban all LGBT student groups from university campuses. Within two months, dozens of public officials had joined a cascade of public anti-LGBT vitriol.

Throughout 2017, police across Indonesia raided saunas, nightclubs, hotel rooms, hair salons, and private homes on suspicion that gay or transgender people were inside. Militant Islamists often tipped off police or accompanied them during these raids. Police apprehended at least 300 people in 2017 because of their presumed sexual orientation or gender identity. Raids and arrests continued throughout 2018.

The combination of anti-LGBT rhetoric, the public flogging of gay men, and police targeting of private spaces has jeopardized Indonesia’s very limited public health infrastructure. Indonesia’s HIV rates in men who have sex with men, which have spiked five-fold over the past decade, could worsen as a result.

Years of anti-LGBT rhetoric from public officials has effectively sanctioned and given political cover for violence and discrimination. To change course, the government needs to uphold its commitments to “unity in diversity” by halting and investigating unlawful police raids and by supporting inclusive public health programs – not sanctioning their attack.