Authorities in Indonesia’s Aceh province publicly flogged two gay men 77 times each on Thursday after a vigilante mob raided their apartment in November, allegedly caught them having sex, and handed them over to the police. The whipping—recognized as torture under international law—was punishment under the province’s Sharia (Islamic law) regulations, which forbid same-sex conduct.
The floggings are part of a longstanding pattern of targeted abuse by Acehnese authorities against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.
In 2012, then-Banda Aceh deputy mayor Illiza Saaduddin announced a “special team” to make the public more aware of the “threat of LGBT," posting an image of herself on Instagram holding a handgun and vowing to flush gays out of Aceh. In October 2015, special Sharia police arrested two women, ages 18 and 19, on suspicion of being lesbians for embracing in public, and detained them for three nights before sending them to religious “rehab.” An episode nearly identical to this week's flogging happened in 2017 – including vigilantism, police involvement, prosecution under grossly discriminatory Sharia regulations, and public flogging.
The abuse also is part of a five-year anti-LGBT campaign driven by many of Indonesia’s national and local leaders with harmful rhetoric and repeated failure to punish abusers.
Aceh is the only one of Indonesia’s 34 provinces that can legally adopt bylaws derived from Sharia (though such provisions are spreading elsewhere in the country). Over the past decade, Aceh’s parliament has adopted Sharia-inspired ordinances that criminalize everything from non-hijab-wearing women, to drinking alcohol, to gambling, to extramarital sex. The province’s 2014 Criminal Code bars both male and female same-sex behavior.
And while the spectacle of public torture in Aceh is horrific, authorities across the country continue to lead or participate in arbitrary raids and arrests in private spaces. Increasingly, authorities are using a discriminatory pornography law as a weapon to target LGBT people. The crackdown has contributed to a major public health crisis: HIV rates among men who have sex with men were already spiking, and the attacks of the last five years have stoked fear and inhibited vital HIV prevention work.
The Indonesian government has made commitments in principle to protect LGBT people. But it seems President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s slogan of "unity in diversity" does not genuinely extend to protecting everyone – including the two men mercilessly flogged today.