The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Indonesia can breathe a sigh of relief, at least temporarily, as the House of Representatives has put on hold for the next few months the passage of revisions to the Criminal Code which include articles that would criminalize gay sex and extramarital sex.
Teuku Taufiqulhadi, a member of the House of Representatives’ working committee deliberating the bill, said the revisions were almost final but some articles required approval from different factions in Commission III, which oversees legal affairs, justice, human rights and security.
The bill was previously scheduled to be passed into law through the House’s plenary session in February but was sidelined after a public outcry over several controversial articles, as lawmakers and government were finalizing the 12-year deliberation to amend the penal code originally written by the Dutch during the colonial era.
“We are giving more time in the next two or three months for the public to provide feedback on the bill to us,” said Taufiqulhadi, a legislator from the National Democratic Party.
The most recent feedback came from the Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals Association (ICMI). They met lawmakers earlier this month to convey their recommendations and urged the parliament and President Joko Widodo to soon enact regulations that could criminalize and contain deterrents to LGBT activities. They also recommended that homosexuality should be categorized as a mental illness.
“Adulterers, lesbians, gay men and other deviant sexual activities should be severely punished, as well as those who advocate, facilitate, provide funding or groups that take economic and political advantage from the deviant sexual behavior,” Sri Astuti Buchari, a deputy chairwoman at ICMI said during a discussion on Apr. 6.
She also called for greater cooperation to block pornography and LGBT channels on social media platforms and the internet.
Some of the most controversial articles in the bill, known by its acronym KUHP, are those regulating general morality. The articles included an expanded definition of adultery and gay sex between consenting adults, with heavier sentences for violations. The revisions, which will seek a five-year prison term for adultery and one year for couples accused of cohabitation, were made following request from the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) and a mounting push from religious conservative groups.
Under the current Criminal Code, consensual same-sex relations are not treated as crimes, except in Aceh where the province has a special autonomy to impose shariah law.
An article that previously only criminalized only paedophiles has been expanded to also criminalize all gay sex between consenting adults.
“We continue to push for the removal of the specific mention of sexual orientation in the proposed article. As long as the sex is non-consentual or with a minor, it should be enough to constitute a crime,” said Anggara, the executive director of Jakarta-based rights advocacy group Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR).
The morality articles have been criticized for meddling too much in citizens’ private lives and creating potential of new crimes at a time when law enforcement agencies are already overwhelmed and understaffed in the face of more pressing offenses such as drugs, human trafficking or terrorism. Correctional facilities are also bursting at the seams with overpopulation.
Arsul Sani, a legislator from the Islamic-based United Development Party (PPP) and member of the working committee vetting the bill, defended the expanded definition of adultery to include gay sex and extramarital sex, saying it reflected the people’s philosophical, social and cultural values.
Sani said in February after the House plenary session that the proposed morality article would prevent ‘street justice’ or people taking matters into their own hands to harass those engaged in sexual activity they disapproved of, even if it is between consenting adults.
“It is necessary to expand the fornication article to not just criminalize adultery between members of the opposite sex but also between those of the same-sex,” he said.
“It was first proposed three years ago. Why make a fuss about it now when the bill is about to be passed into law?” he added.
Dede Oetomo, a Surabaya-based gay rights activist, acknowledged growing anxiety in the community over the rising hostility encountered in recent years, in contrast to the tolerance seen in the past.
Oetomo, an adviser to gay rights advocacy group GaYa Nusantara, said that the community had been optimistic that tolerance towards them would prevail, especially after President Joko Widodo was elected in 2014, as they believed he would push for greater democratization.
“We had big expectations because he is not from the old regime or a former military man but apparently we were wrong,” Oetomo said.
“Even before this talk about the proposed LGBT clause in the revised draft of the penal code, we have continued to encounter growing verbal and physical hostility since mid 2015,” he said, noting that the worrying trend coincided with the growing clout of religious conservatives in Indonesia.
Despite the unfavorable outlook, Oetomo said LGBT people continued about their regular daily lives and to hope they would not encounter harassment by police or intolerant groups.
In October, police officers raided a gay sauna in Central Jakarta and apprehended 51 men including seven foreigners, only to release most of them on the following day, while five employees were prosecuted for providing prostitution and pornography. It followed a raid in May in North Jakarta on a shophouse where gay men were gathering at a sauna. Police arrested 141 men but 126 were released the next day while 10 were prosecuted for violations of the 2008 anti-pornography law.
Surveys carried by Jakarta-based pollster Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting paint a mix picture of public opinion in the world’s largest Muslim majority country, and one long seen as moderate and tolerant.
In a poll taken in March 2016, 47.5 percent of respondents who know or have heard about LGBT agreed that same-sex relations are forbidden by religion while 34 percent said they totally agreed with that view.
But in surveys taken in September and December last year, a large majority of the 1,220 respondents saw the LGBT community as a threat. In the December survey, 87.6 percent said they felt threatened by LGBT people, up from 85.4 percent in September.
More than half of the respondents, or 53.3 percent, said they could not accept if a member of their families was gay and 79.1 percent objected to having LGBT people as neighbors.
However, 57.7 percent of the respondents also acknowledged that LGBT people have the right to live in the country and 50 percent agreed the government should ensure that LGBT people’s rights are protected.
“The majority of citizens also object if a LGBT person becomes a government official, such as mayor, governor, or president,” said Ade Armando, the director of the polling firm.
“Even though the public views the LGBT people negatively and is being discriminative by refusing to support them to become public officials, the public does not discriminate when it comes to LGBT people living as regular citizens,” Armando added.
The article was first published in the Bangkok Post