Indonesia said Thursday there was “no room” for the gay community in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, as activists blasted officials for an unprecedented series of LGBT attacks.
A wave of angry rhetoric directed at homosexuals earlier this year – including a call to ban them from university campuses – was the first time senior officials had publicly attacked the Southeast Asian nation’s gay community, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Thursday.
Indonesia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) citizens have long been targeted by vigilante Islamist groups.
But the community experienced an “immediate deterioration” in their rights following a sustained assault by ministers, religious hardliners and influential Islamic organisations over a two-month period, HRW said.
In response, the government said protecting LGBT rights was not a priority.
“Rights of citizens like going to school and getting an ID card are protected, but there is no room in Indonesia for the proliferation of the LGBT movement,” presidential representative Johan Budi told AFP.
Some of the most high-profile figures making anti-gay statements during the backlash – which activists believe may have been triggered by media coverage of the US decision to legalise same-sex marriage – were government ministers.
The higher education minister called for a ban on LGBT organisations on university campuses, while the defence minister likened homosexual rights groups to a “type of modern warfare”.
In their report, HRW said that “what began as public condemnation quickly grew into calls for criminalisation and ‘cures’, laying bare the depth and breadth of officials’ individual prejudices”.
The spike in anti-LGBT vitriol, predominantly during January and February this year, has intensified violence against sexual minorities throughout Indonesia, the report said.
Indonesia’s largest Muslim group, Nahdlatul Ulama, in February described gay lifestyles as perverted and a desecration of human dignity. In Aceh, the only Indonesian province that applies Islāmic law, the local government urged business owners to refuse to hire gay citizens.
In interviews with activist groups, HRW reported gay rights organisations shut their offices and even hid staff as threats mounted against them.
In Yogyakarta an Islamist group forced the closure of a transgender Islāmic boarding school, while a peaceful rally in the same Central Javan city in support of Indonesia’s LGBT community was shut down.
“The impact of anti-LGBT rhetoric from government officials is enormous for us as individuals. For those of us who have worked so hard and risked so much to come out, it is a major step backward,” a lesbian activist in eastern Indonesia told HRW.
Islāmic activists have also filed a judicial review at the Constitutional Court for making gay sex a crime. The court is holding hearings into the case.