This week the Indonesian Minister of Information and Communication, on behalf of the Indonesian Government, requested that social media companies eliminate LGBT-oriented icons from their Indonesia language store. Japanese-owned social network app ‘Line’ has already complied, stating that ’they regret incidents of some stickers which are considered sensitive by many people in Indonesia’. Authorities are also pushing FaceBook-owned Whattsapp to cancel all emoticons with LGBT references from their messaging boards.
This request is just the latest anti-LGBT move by the Indonesian government, showing an increase in fierceness of LGBT intolerance. Just one week ago, Indonesia’s Vice-President Jusuf Kalla, urged the United Nations Development Programme UNDP, to refrain from financing LGBT groups and programmes in Indonesia. He stated: ‘LGBT campaigns are not in accordance with the current social values of the nation’. In January the Minister of Research, Technology and Higher Education announced that LGBT communities should be barred from university campuses because ‘there are standards of values and morals to uphold’. Although he was forced by public outcry to downplay his statement a few days later, he stood by his earlier rejection of active LGBT groups at campuses.
The outbursts of LGBT intolerance pinpoint the growing influence of Islam in society, politics and law, that is uncontested by a strong counter movement, including the government. In March 2015 the Majelis Ulama Indonesia, the highest clerical council, issued a fatwa proposing fierce punishment, up to the death penalty, for those accused of homosexual acts. Homosexuality is claimed to be an illness, that is serious but can be cured. On 17 February 2016, MUI and several civil society organisations issued a statement calling LGBT against the Constitution and religious law. In one word: haram.
The impact is not to be underestimated. In Indonesia gays and lesbians were always perceived as part of society, and the division between gay, lesbian or straight communities was not too strict. This situation is now changing rapidly, with a reported 89,3% of LGBT individuals facing violence against them, and transvestites quickly vanishing from the streets. At present being gay or lesbian is not forbidden under Indonesian law, but it remains to be seen for how long this will be the case. In the Islamic Province of Aceh, sharia law is already installed and LGBT activities forbidden.
This situation is not only bad for the country’s reputation, it is also at odds with Indonesia’s national motto ‘Unity in Diversity’. The Indonesian Human Rights Commission refers to Nawa Cita, the developmental principles proclaimed by the Presidential couple Jokowi/Kalla in 2014, in which Indonesian pluralism is affirmed. Moreover, some argue that LGBT intolerance will ultimately influence Indonesia’s economy, when companies and investors will no longer be interested in a country that is not open to all people, workers and consumers alike.
Human Rights Watch called upon the President of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, to take a stand and express his unequivocal support for respecting LGBT people’s rights, and issue reform measures to ‘protect instead of persecute this marginalised minority’. It seems President Jokowi has a dilemma on his plate, and we can only hope he will be able to come to a solution that will respect the rights of all people in Indonesia and beyond.