Instagram takes down gay Muslim comics after Indonesian request

 Instagram has taken down an account that featured comic strips about a Muslim gay man’s daily struggles after Indonesia demanded its removal, the government said Wednesday.

Indonesia’s Communication and Information Technology Ministry said it had sent a letter to Instagram requesting that the account, called @alpantuni, be taken down for lewd content. 

“Instagram complied with the ministry’s request,” the ministry said in a statement. 

Communication Minister Rudiantara had warned that Instagram could be blocked if it ignored the demand.

The account featured 10 comic strips carrying Indonesian text, including one depicting two men having sex. It was accessible until around midnight on Tuesday.

Another post showed the character named Alpantuni being abused by other people for his sexuality.

Instagram could not be immediately reached for comment. 

Homosexuality is not a crime in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, except in Aceh province where Sharia law is in force.

But the gay community have been under increased pressure since 2016 following homophobic rhetoric from officials and conservative Muslim groups amid growing advocacy for sexual minorities. 

In recent years, police have occasionally raided places frequented by gay people and briefly detained them on suspicion of engaging in prostitution and pornographic acts.

Last year, the city of Pariaman in the devoutly Muslim West Sumatra province passed a by-law that imposes a fine of 70 dollars for “homosexual and transgender activities.” 

Leaders in several Indonesian cities have also said they were considering issuing by laws banning homosexual activities.

Indonesian parliament speaker urges law against “LGBT excesses”

Indonesia’s parliament speaker has called for legislation to curb “homosexual excesses,” as lawmakers and the government debate a revised criminal code that could make gay sex and sex outside marriage illegal.

In an opinion piece published in the Koran Sindo newspaper, House of Representatives speaker Bambang Soesatyo wrote that gay lifestyles have spawned “horrifying” excesses such as murders, HIV/AIDS and paedophilia.

“It is clear that legislation that focuses on curbing the lifestyles of the LGBT community is long overdue,” said Soesatyo, using the abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Soesatyo then listed several murder cases, including two serial killing cases, involving homosexuals in Indonesia in recent years.

Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, but Soesatyo is a politician from the secular and nationalist Golkar Party.

Homosexuality is not a crime in Indonesia, but members of the LGBT community have been under pressure following remarks and action by authorities targeting them.

Since last year, police have raided places frequented by gay people and briefly detained scores of them on suspicion of prostitution and pornographic acts.

In the opinion piece, Soesatyo also wrote that gay people often resorted to paedophilia “because of difficulty in finding partners,” citing recent cases of child rape.

“Their penetration into the lives of teenagers and children has been made possible by online social networks,” he said.

Soesatyo also said, without citing sources, that the gay population was estimated to be about 3 per cent of the country’s population, or about 7 million people.

“If these people actively promote their lifestyles, it will be very worrying,” he said.

“We urge the state to take firm action,” he said, adding that the House of Representatives was seeking to add more provisions to the draft revised criminal code to include those on LGBT activities.

Under the draft revisions to the criminal code, a person engaging in “a lewd act” with another person of the same sex who is under 18 years old could face 12 years in prison.

If the act involves violence, the penalty is up to 15 years, according to the draft.

It stipulates that a lewd act committed in public between two people of the same sex is punishable up to 18 months in prison.

The draft also says that sex between a man and a woman who are unmarried to each other is punishable by up to five years.

But it also stipulates that police can only pursue charges if a relative, such as a wife, a husband, a parent or a sibling makes a police complaint.

Human rights groups warn that the new criminal code, if passed as it is, would be a threat to the privacy of citizens and violate human rights.

More than 50,000 people have signed an online petition against the proposal.

“We call on the House of Representatives to remove provisions which could penalize women, victims of rape, children, those who did not register their marriages and the public in general,” the petition read.

Police release transgender women after re-education

Police in Indonesia’s sharia-ruled province of Aceh said Tuesday they had released 12 transgender women after they agreed to act and dress as men.  Continue reading “Police release transgender women after re-education”

Police round up transvestites in Aceh province

Police in Indonesia’s Aceh province, where Islamic law is enforced, rounded up 12 transvestites and made them wear male clothing, a news report said Monday.

The transvestites were arrested on Sunday in several beauty parlours where they were working in North Aceh district as part of a crackdown on what authorities call “social ills,” local police chief Untung Surianata told the state-run Antara news agency.

“These transvestites will be re-educated so they can be real men,” Surianata was quoted as saying.

The officer said they were shaved and told to wear male clothing.

“Officers also asked them to run briefly and scream from the top of their lungs so that their male voices came out,” he added.

Under a version of Islamic law in place in the semi-autonomous Aceh, men who dress as women are not allowed to serve female customers at beauty salons.

Aceh is the only Indonesian province allowed to impose sharia as part of the central government’s attempts to appease a drive for independence in the region.

But elsewhere in Indonesia, sexual minorities have also been subjected to discrimination.

Police in the country’s two largest cities have raided gay clubs and briefly detained dozens of people suspected of engaging in gay prostitution.

The government has also sought to block gay-friendly mobile apps that it says promote “sexual deviance.”

Two men caned in Indonesia’s Aceh for gay sex

Two men convicted of gay sex were caned Tuesday in front of a crowd of onlookers in Indonesia’s sharia-ruled province of Aceh in the first such case in the devoutly Muslim region.  Continue reading “Two men caned in Indonesia’s Aceh for gay sex”

Police raid gay club in Jakarta, arrest 141

Police in the Indonesian capital Jakarta raided a gay club and arrested 141 people on suspicion of involvement in “gay prostitution”, an officer said.

Ten people have been named suspects after the raid on Atlantis Gym and Sauna in north Jakarta on Sunday night, including the club’s owners and organizers of an event featuring a striptease, said local police detective chief Nasriadi, who goes by one name.

Four foreigners – two Malaysians, one Singaporean and one Briton – were among those arrested, Nasriadi said.

Rights activists condemned the arrests after photos of naked and shirtless club-goers being rounded up by police circulated on the internet.

“Such arbitrary action degrades the humanity of the victims,” said the Coalition Against Violence Against Sexual Minorities.

Homosexuals in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country have been on the defensive following last year’s barrage of anti-gay rhetoric and actions by officials.

Last week, a court in the sharia-ruled province of Aceh sentenced a male couple to 85 strokes of the cane for gay sex.

The two were scheduled to be publicly caned on Tuesday morning, said an official at the prosecutor’s office in Banda Aceh.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch urged President Joko Widodo to intervene and stop the caning.

“Jokowi needs to be clear to Aceh’s authorities that flogging is torture for which they will be held to account,” said Phelim Kine, the New York-based rights group’s deputy director for Asia, using the president’s nickname.

Last month, police in Indonesia’s second-largest city Surabaya raided hotel rooms and detained eight men for participating in a “gay sex party.”

Police quiz two men over amorous Facebook photos

Police in Indonesia’s North Sulawesi province have questioned two men after one of them posted photos on Facebook showing them kissing in bed.  Continue reading “Police quiz two men over amorous Facebook photos”

Indonesian lawmaker warns US: Don’t interfere over LGBT

An Indonesian lawmaker has warned the United States against meddling in his country’s affairs after Washington criticized Jakarta’s treatment of sexual and gender minorities.

Abdul Kharis Almasyhari, a legislator from the Muslim-based Prosperous Justice Party, said Indonesia had its own set of “values and norms,” Detik.com news reported Saturday.

“Every nation has its own way of managing its own affairs,” he was quoted as saying.

“Other countries should not interfere in our domestic affairs, just as we don’t interfere in theirs.”

On Thursday, New York-based Human Rights Watch, in a new report said that lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people (LGBT) in Indonesia had been under unprecedented attack since earlier this year after officials made prejudiced remarks against them.

Commenting on that report, US State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said Washington was monitoring reports of “possible measures in Indonesia that would restrict the freedom of expression for LGBTI individuals in principle and in practice.”

A spokesman for Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Johan Budi, said this week that “all citizens are equal before the law, regardless of their sexual orientation.”

“But if LGBT people seek to influence other people to follow their lifestyles, that is not right and there’s no room for such activity,” he said.

Anti-gay sentiment in Indonesia rose earlier this year after Higher Education Minister Muhammad Nasir banned university groups advocating for sexual and gender minorities.

Since then, officials and conservative religious groups have made statements denouncing pro-LGBT activities.

Does MUI fatwa on homosexuality help shape how Indonesians see LGBT community?

By Irwan Martua Hidayana*

Talking about religion and homosexuality can be like mixing water with oil. They don’t go well together.

Discourses on homosexuality are part of religion’s long history, particularly among Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Broadly speaking, these religions do not tolerate homosexuality and consider it a sin. Although there are exceptions within those faiths. Even Pope Francis, who has spoken out against same-sex marriage, has said that people “shouldn’t be marginalised” just because of their sexuality.

Last year, Indonesia’s top Muslim clerical body, the Council of Indonesian Ulema (MUI) issued a fatwa (an Islamic legal edict) condemning homosexuality. This came around the time the Indonesian government carried out a flurry of executions of drug traffickers on death row, which prompted international pressure against Indonesia’s policy on the death penalty. In its edict, the MUI suggested that same-sex relations to be added to the list of crimes punishable with death.

The MUI also recommended the government to set up rehabilitation centres to cure “perverts”. They argued that perversion is increasing in the society. Aside from sexual molestation, the MUI included homosexuality as perverted.

Reaction from LGBT community

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in Indonesia has responded to the fatwa in a calm manner. Suara Kita (Our Voice), an LGBT rights organisation, wrote on its website that the MUI has a right to its opinion as much as Suara Kita has the right to dismiss the fatwa.

Aside from the calm response from the LGBT community, what are the implications of the MUI’s edict in the struggle for LGBT rights in Indonesia?

Indonesia and LGBT rights

While more and more countries acknowledge the rights of LGBT people through same-sex marriage laws, Indonesia actively obstructs international advancement of LGBT rights.

In 2014, Indonesia, along with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, was one of the countries that opposed the passing of a UN Human Rights Council LGBT resolution.

Indonesia does not explicitly ban same-sex relations in its criminal code. However, under Indonesia’s anti-pornography law, homosexuality is defined as a sexual deviance.

The sharia-ruled Aceh province in Sumatra bans same-sex relations, with a sentence of up to 100 public floggings. Palembang, another province in Sumatra, also criminalises same-sex relations with a penalty of up to six months imprisonment.

Fuel for discrimination

The MUI’s fatwa will most likely not be implemented in Indonesia’s legal system. Indonesia’s religious minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin said he did not agree with the MUI. He argues homosexuality is an individual’s choice.

But the fatwa’s existence may be used by religious vigilante groups to attack Indonesia’s LGBT community. Islamic edicts from the MUI are not legally binding. However, the state and Muslim society in Indonesia often use a fatwa to solve Islam-related matters. Lawmakers often refer to MUI fatwas in drafting many state laws, such as the law on halal products and hajj management.

Even though the fatwa is not legally binding, for some Muslim conservatives it is more than enough to ban homosexuality in public spaces. It can become a foundation for many policies and practices that reinforce hetero-normative and binary gender systems.

Religious vigilantes have previously attacked events organised by LGBT groups. In 2010, they attacked the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) conference in Surabaya and the Q!Film Festival in Jakarta. In October 2010, the MUI urged the national censorship board to ban any movies that promote homosexuality.

Through the fatwa, the MUI label homosexuality as a sin, unnatural and immoral. By releasing edicts, the MUI tries to play a role as Indonesia’s morality police and the guardian of the faith of Muslim society.

For the MUI, the objection to homosexuality is definite, without room for critical discussion. Many Muslim people follow the MUI’s line of thinking and believe that homosexuality has no place in Islam. Criticising its view of Islam can be perceived as opposition to Islamic law.

The change role of the MUI

The MUI is a non-government Islamic organisation established by the late president Suharto in 1975. Suharto used the organisation to gain political support from diverse Islamic organisations.

When Suharto established the MUI, there were many Islamic groups that were political with the intention to replace the state ideology Pancasila with Islam. A key role of the MUI was to convince other Islamic organisations to accept Pancasila as state ideology. Accepting Pancasila would mean abandoning their political intention of establishing Islam as a state ideology. The Islamic groups would have to recognise pluralism as inherent in Indonesian society.

After the fall of Suharto’s dictatorial rule in 1998, political Islam began to re-emerge. This has affected the way the MUI responds to socio-religious problems in Indonesia.

The MUI has since become more in favour of Islam and moved away from the notion of pluralism. It seems to ignore Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity), the national motto. It attempts to impose its authoritative interpretation of Islam on Indonesian society.

For instance, in 2005, the MUI issued a fatwa that banned pluralism, secularism and liberalism. The MUI view pluralism the same way as it views syncretism (the combination of different forms of belief or practices) and religious relativism: as a threat to Islamic belief, as it can lead to heresy.

Beyond dividing society into ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’

By issuing the recent fatwa, the MUI categorised members of the LGBT community as —to borrow philosopher Judith Butler’s term – the abject. The creation of the abject aims to ensure “normal” behaviour. The boundaries between “normal” and “abnormal” are always scrutinised by the family, school, community, state apparatus and religious institutions. To make the “abnormal” conform to social norms, they are stigmatised, marginalised and attacked.

However, LGBT communities and organisations in Indonesia have shown that they refuse to be labelled as the abject or “abnormal”. They continue to fight for their rights. What keeps them going are lessons from past experiences of other movements and solidarity from other human rights groups.

The MUI is not the only voice on Islamic interpretation in Indonesia. There are a number of Muslim scholars who are critical of the MUI’s strict interpretations of Islam. For example, noted Islamic scholar Musdah Mulia has proposed a humanist interpretation of Islam. In 2009, she argued that there is a room in Islam for gay, lesbian and other non-normative sexualities.

Mulia’s view on Islam is based on the central principles of justice, virtue, equality, wisdom, compassion, pluralism and human rights. These leave no place for discrimination and hatred. For Mulia, the reinterpretation of Islamic texts must be done contextually, not literally, with reference to the true objective of Islamic legislation.

By adopting this view of Islam, talking about religion and homosexuality will no longer feel like mixing oil and water

*This article was first published by theconversation.com