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”
The gay community in Indonesia was dealt another blow after a court in the sharia-ruled province of Aceh sentenced a gay couple to 85 strokes of the cane, in the first such case in the country.
Sexual minorities in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country are already on the defensive following last year’s barrage of anti-gay rhetoric and actions by officials.
“This is a sad day for the LGBT community,” said Yuli Rustinawati, spokeswoman for Arus Pelangi, a group that advocates for the country’s lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT).
“It is ironic because today we are celebrating International Day Against Homophobia,” she said.
Sexual minorities and rights activists feared the worst after Aceh’s parliament issued a new set of Islamic laws, known as qanun jinayat, regulating private morality in 2014. The laws took effect in October 2015.
Under the law, sex out of wedlock and same-sex sexual acts are punishable by 100 lashes of the cane, or 100 months in prison.
The previous laws banned gambling, alcohol and being alone with someone of the opposite sex while unmarried, but did not specifically regulate sexual acts.
“Qanun jinayat that is used to convict [the gay couple] is discriminatory and the punishment meted out is especially harsh,” said Adreas Harsono, a researcher for Human Rights Watch.
“Their rigths were also violated because they were mistreated during their arrest,” he said.
Local vigilantes barged into the couple’s rented room in the city of Banda Aceh and handed them over to sharia police.
A video posted on YouTube showed a visibly distressed naked man surrounded by angry locals.
Many homosexuals have left Aceh since the introduction of the laws, Harsono said.
Transgender people in Aceh had very few job opportunities, forcing many of them to resort to working as hairdressers at salons.
But even as hairdressers, they are banned from serving female customers.
The once-rebellious Aceh has long been known as a staunchly Muslim
region and is nicknamed “The Veranda of Mecca.”
The central government granted Aceh special autonomy in 2002 to
mollify desires for independence, allowing the province to impose its version of sharia laws.
Jakarta and separatist rebels signed a peace pact in 2005, ending
decades of conflict that killed 15,000 people, mostly civilians. The deal was spurred by the Indian Ocean tsunami a year earlier that killed more than 170,000 people in Aceh.
The mayor of provincial capital Banda Aceh, Illiza Sa’aduddin Djamal, has referred to the growing visibility of gays and lesbians as a “moral tsunami.”
She said her government has formed a special team to provide counselling for homosexual people.
In the rest of Indonesia, consensual sex between people of the same sex is not a crime, but hostility toward homosexuals has been growing.
Early last year, Higher Education Minister Muhammad Nasir warned of pro-LGBT activities on university campuses and banned such groups.
Last month, police in Indonesia’s second largest city Surabaya raided hotel rooms and detained eight men for participating in a “gay sex party.”
The government has sought to block gay-friendly mobile apps that it says promote “sexual deviance” and has also asked social networking services to remove emoticons from the Indonesian market which depict same-sex couples.
Arus Pelangi, the LGBT group, said it recorded more than 150 incidents of discrimination, harassment and attacks against LGBT people last year.
The government has also blocked international funding for organizations working to help sexual minorities, said Harsono of Human Rights Watch.
The Constitutional Court is considering a case filed by a group of conservative academics that seeks to criminalize consensual gay sex among adults, with proposed penalties of up to five years in prison. No verdict on the petition had been passed.
“Things are getting worse and worse for LGBT people,” said Harsono.
“I’m at loss for words about the inhumanity.”
An edict by the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) that the national health insurance scheme does not follow Islamic principles has reignited debate on whether commercial insurance is compatible with sharia.
According to the MUI, the scheme known as Jaminan Kesehatan Nasional (JKN) involves usury, gambling and manipulation.
“We recommend the government reform the current system to make it in line with Islamic principles,” said Amidhan Shaberah, an MUI deputy chairman.
Amidhan said the edict was made during a meeting of the MUI’s fatwa commission in Central Java last month.
The JKN was launched in January 2014 by the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono with the aim of achieving universal healthcare coverage. The policy was continued under President Joko Widodo.
Among its criticisms, the council said that a fine of two per cent of the monthly premium imposed on insurance participants if they failed to pay for three months was usurious.
MUI said the current scheme should be allowed to continue until a new system that is in line with sharia is established.
The council is a semi-official body funded by the government, but its edicts are non-binding.
Some Islamic scholars believe that conventional insurance resembles gambling because they believe it involves uncertainty.
Other Muslim scholars disagreed with MUI.
“Insurance is a fairly new service and it is not regulated in traditional Islamic jurisprudence,” said Ulil Abshar Abdalla, the founder of the Liberal Islamic Network.
“Why some Muslim scholars consider insurance haram? Because when one buys an insurance policy from a provider, the two sides are gambling,” he said.
“But such principle can’t be applied in a modern economic system that is very complex. The only way to get around it is by re-contextualizing Islamic jurisprudence to answer modern problems.”
Indonesia aims to have every citizen covered by health insurance by 2020. As part of the scheme, the government pays premiums for 86.4 million people considered poor or near poor.
More than 142 million Indonesians, or just over half of the country’s 250 million people, are registered as participants as of this year.
The insurance operator, BPJS Kesehatan, expects the number to reach 168 million by the end of the year.
Banda Aceh – As a transvestite in Indonesia’s devoutly Muslim province of Aceh, Fanny sometimes has to put up with harassment and social discrimination.
But after the local government issued a new set of Islamic laws regulating private morality in September, she fears worse things will happen.
“We fear that people will take the law into their own hands,” said Fanny, who is a leader of a semi-underground LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sex and transgender) group in Aceh.
In September, the provincial legislature approved an Islamic criminal code, known as qanun jinayat.
Under the law, due to take effect on October 10, 2015, sex out of wedlock and same-sex sexual acts are punishable by 100 lashes of the cane, or 100 months in prison.
The current laws ban gambling, alcohol and being alone with someone of the opposite sex while unmarried, but do not specifically regulate sexual acts.
Fanny, 31, said even before the new laws were passed, she and fellow transgenders had already experienced harassment and discrimination.
Health workers were often reluctant to serve her when she sought treatment in hospital and she had trouble opening a bank account, she said.
“They often give me a strange look or lecture about morality,” said Fanny, who wears a headscarf to conform to sharia requirements.
She said people like her had to deal with taunts from males and had very few job opportunities, forcing many of them to resort to working as hairdressers at salons.
But even as hairdressers, they are banned under sharia to serve women.
With the new laws, she and other members of the transexual and gay community had decided to lie low, she said.
“We have a dicussion among us and we agreed we should not go out at night very often, just once or twice every week,” Fanny said.
“Our strategy is not to be too visible to avoid trouble,” she said.
Gay rights activists say the new laws could be used as a pretext to harrass sexual minorities.
“Qanun jinayat is a nightmare for the LGBT community,” said Faisal Reza, an Acehnese gay rights activist who now lives in Jakarta.
“It can be interpreted as a license to target people whose sexual orientation is different from them,” he said.
Being a homosexual or transgender is not a crime under the law because only sexual acts can be prosecuted.
But Acehnese clerics often refer to the Biblical towns of Sodom and Gomorrah to denounce homosexuals.
Transvestites are generally tolerated in Aceh, even though they are often stigmatized as sex workers.
“The LGBT community is small in Aceh and as long as they don’t engage in illegal acts, no action will be taken against them,” said Munawar Djalil, the chief of the legal affairs department at the provincial Sharia Office.
Attacks on sexual minorities in Aceh have occurred in the past.
Last year, residents in Banda Aceh rounded up two teenage girls they believed to be lesbians after they spent time alone in a house.
The two were later released after being questioned briefly by police.
The once-rebellious Aceh has long been known as a staunchly Muslim region and is nicknamed “The Veranda of Mecca.”
The central government granted Aceh special autonomy in 2002 to mollify desires for independence, allowing the province to impose its version of sharia laws.
Jakarta and separatist rebels signed a peace pact in 2005, ending decades of conflict that killed 15,000 people, mostly civilians. The deal was spurred by the Indian Ocean tsunami a year earlier that killed more than 170,000 people in Aceh.
Illiza Sa’aduddin Djamal, the mayor of Banda Aceh, said the Islamic law was needed to address what she calls a “moral tsunami.”
“Because of globalization, there has been a shift in behaviour among Acehnese youth, some kind of a moral tsunami,” said Illiza, the first female mayor of Banda Aceh.
“We are facing the problems of HIV/AIDS and drugs. This is a challenge for us because even one person with bad morals is a problem for society,” she said.
She said she was concerned that gays and lesbians were increasingly bold about their sexuality.
“They are very open and they are not ashamed, maybe because they are faithless,” she said.
But her government is ready to provide counseling for people like them, she said.
In Banda Aceh, the olive-uniformed religious police, known as Wilayatul Hisbah, patrol the streets in two shifts everyday.
They stop to reprimand unmarried couples being alone in parks and Muslim women who are not wearing the hijab head coverings.
During a routine patrol one afternoon, a group of six religious police was scolded by a woman who worked at a beauty parlor in Banda Aceh’s Pinayung market.
“Why do you keep bothering us?” the woman asked in a loud, angry voice.
“Do you think your mother owns this place? Get lost!” she said, to the awkward silence of the policemen. The officers left without getting out of their Toyota pickup truck.
Marwan Hasan, the leader of the group, the place had been caught serving male customers in the past.
“We don’t get that kind of treatment very often, but we have to be patient in dealing with people,” he said. “Maybe she’s upset because business is not doing well.”