A student news website in Indonesia that published a story about a woman expressing her love for another young woman was ordered by university officials to shut down its entire news operation after the story went viral. North Sumatra University (USU), a public university in Medan, North Sumatra province, gave the 18 students who write for and publish Suara USU (USU News) just 48 hours to shut down and vacate the newsroom.
The 1,000-word fictional story, “Semua Menolak Kehadiran Diriku di Dekatnya” (Everyone Refuses My Presence Near Her), was published on Suara USU’s website on March 12 and promoted on their Instagram account on March 18.
Publisher Yael Stefany Sinaga, who is also the story’s author, said that USU President Runtung Sitepu summoned website members to his office on March 25, declaring that the short story contains “pornography” and promoted homosexuality. Sitepu claimed it contradicted the campus’ values and demanded the story be removed from the website.
The students said that the story contains no pornography and refused to take it down. Sinaga believes the university feared the story may have generated discussion about widespread discrimination and intimidation against minorities including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) people in Indonesia.
Incidents like this can be traced to the anti-LGBT moral panic that has engulfed Indonesia for more than three years. In January 2016, Indonesia’s Higher Education Minister Mohammed Nasir, technically Sitepu’s boss, tweeted that he wanted to ban all LGBT student groups from university campuses. Politicians and government officials followed suit with their own anti-LGBT statements, calling for everything from criminalization and “cures” for homosexuality, to censorship of information for LGBT people and activities. Indonesia’s national broadcasting commission later banned the broadcast of information related to LGBT people, claiming the ban would “protect” children from copying “deviant” deviant behavior.
Although the Suara USU website was suspended by its server provider on March 20, it skirted censorship by switching to another web provider two days later, republishing all their content – including the love story that had so angered officials.
Universities are supposed to be bastions of academic freedom, and censorship has no place in modern Indonesia. The Indonesian government should be supporting the rights of LGBT people, not undermining them.
Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.
University officials gave the 18 students who publish Suara USU (USU News) just 48 hours to shut down and vacate the newsroom. The number of students who write for Suara USU was misstated in an earlier version of this article.
Update: In July 2019, the Suara USU publisher Yael Stefany Sinaga and chief editor Widiya Hastuti filed a lawsuit against USU university president, Runtung Sitempu, challenging the closure of Suara USU. On November 14, the Medan administrative court rejected the lawsuit, ruling that the university president has authority over education, research and public services on the campus.