Indonesian gays threatened with imprisonment for blasphemy

Timothy Kincaid

March 30th, 2010

Indonesia has the fourth largest population in the world, about 230 million, with about half residing on Java and the rest spread across about 17,500 islands. It is predominantly Muslim (about 86%), but the constitution also allows religious freedom, which is defined as the freedom of worship in Islam and five additional religions: Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.

The Islam practiced in Indonesia is generally less strident than that practiced in the Middle East. Officially secular (other than in the province of Aceh), the laws do not forbid homosexuality and there is a level of tolerance and even limited visibility. However, there are conservative factions within the nation’s Muslim population who long to remake Indonesia as a Muslim state and to administer Shari’a law.

Additionally, Indonesia has a blasphemy law which prohibits alternative interpretations of the six recognized religions. Although this law is currently being challenged in the Constitutional Court, it is being fiercely defended by the Religion Minister.

This past weekend, the ILGA (the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) had planned on holding its ILGA Asia conference at Surabaya, the capital of East Java. The conference was to be from Friday, March 26th, through Monday, March 29th, and was to focus on the problems faced by women and by marginalized communities in general.

However, on the 24th, the police refused to permit the event to go on. (AsiaOne)

Indonesian police said Wednesday they will not issue a permit for an international gay and transgender group to convene a regional conference because of fears it could incite unrest.

The unrest cited was a non-subtle threat from Muslim activist groups (Jakarta Globe)

Abdusshomad Buchori, chairman of the East Java chapter of the MUI, said the conference was an attempt “to ruin the people and the young generation.”

“According to Islamic teachings, the same-sex relationships of gays or lesbians as well as bisexuals are condemned by the Almighty,” he said, adding that his organization had sent a formal request to the National Police headquarters and the East Java administration not to permit the conference to go ahead.

Abdusshomad said his organization would not hesitate “to use our own methods” to break up the event should authorities allow it to go forward. “If there are parties that insist on holding the event, we will play hard,” he warned.

Unable to negotiate a resolution, ILGA canceled the conference. But this was inadequate for militant Islamists (Jakarta Globe)

Led by the East Java chapter of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), hardline groups descended on a Surabaya hotel on Friday, intimidating delegates who had planned to attend an international gay conference that was canceled after pressure from Islamic organizations.

“We found 130 people, including foreign participants from 13 countries, who were gathering in the hotel,” said a spokesman for the groups, Arukat Jaswadi, who is also chairman of the Center for Indonesian Community Studies. The Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) also took part in the raid.

The radical Islamic groups also demanded that the management of the Oval Hotel ask the guests registered for the event to leave. “How can the hotel management guarantee us that those people are not having a conference in the hotel?” said Arukat.

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Association (ILGA) was scheduled to hold a conference in Surabaya from Friday to Sunday. The event, hosted by gay rights group Gaya Nusantara, had been expected to attract more than 150 activists.

A minor clash occurred during the raid as hotel guests resisted the checks by FPI members. Arukat said scuffles broke out because the ILGA members did not want to cooperate with them and “always argue with us.”

When the ILGA members planned to hold a news conference after the raid, the FPI members prevented them, leading to another skirmish.

“They are undermining us. It’s clear that we don’t want them to be here for the conference, now they want to hold a press conference,” Arukat said.

The groups said they would “keep an eye on the participants and make sure they leave the hotel on Friday afternoon.”

Local sources report that the militants threatened the lives of the conferees, saying that they would burn them alive.

While it is disappointing that these Muslim groups were able to intimidate police into forcing the cancellation of the conference, it is the most recent development that causes the greatest concern. The government, through its Ministry of Religious Affairs, is not choosing to call into question the bullying tactics and death threats of Muslim radicals. Rather, it is taking a position that threatens the freedom of sexual minorities to meet or advocate for their rights. (Fridae)

The Minister of Religious Affairs, Suryadharma Ali, was quoted as saying that activities such as the conference are against religious and moral order, and an offense to the religious community in Indonesia. He added that homosexual behaviour contradicts the teachings of various religions, including Islam. He added that he is certain other religions in Indonesia do not condone homosexual behaviour.

It is believed that the organisers of the conference – none have been specifically named by the authorities although three members of the ILGA Asia board are Indonesian: Poedjiati Tan of Gaya Nusantara, King Oey of Arus Pelangi and Kamilia of Institut Pelangi Perempuan, Indonesia – may be charged under the country’s Blasphemy Law.

If the local organizers of the conference are found guilty of blaspheming, they could be jailed for up to five years. While the Blasphemy Law has been used to outlaw the organization of minority religious sects, the expansion to include as blasphemy those who simply disagree with specific religious doctrines is a threat to the freedoms of all Indonesians. And it, in effect, criminalizes not only sexual behaviors but any attitude, opinion, or advocacy that disagrees with the dominant religion.


March 30th, 2010

If we bombed Mecca, and Allah wouldn’t punish the infidels who destroyed his temple, do you think the Muslim world would snap out of it?


March 30th, 2010

No, I think they would see their own subsequent reprisals as “Allah” doing the punishment. As usual.


March 30th, 2010

Islam, the religion of peace./sarc

Yesterday, two female suicide bombers murdered around 37 people in Moscow.

Tony P

March 30th, 2010

In some ways I do wish they’d been more successful in stamping out the Muslim Menace during the Crusades.

But then we’d have the Catholic church as the overarching authority. Perish that thought.


March 30th, 2010

posts above = more hate speech on BTB.

Richard Rush

March 30th, 2010

This story is even less surprising than the one about Ricky Martin coming out, or the sun rising today. It’s what I expect from Islam and Christianity. Any positive development only comes due to influence from the more secular side, not from deep within those religions.

Gorgeous photo of that mosque, though. I’m a sucker for the classical trappings of religion, which is a dilemma. With respect to religion I find the trappings enthralling, but the substance appalling.


March 30th, 2010

It’s not “religious freedom” if they have a short list of religions you’re allowed to believe in. What a joke.

Paul in Canada

March 30th, 2010

David – I have to agree. Hate is hate and talking/writing this way shows little human compassion that we as LGBTQ folks demand of others.

Unfortunately, any fundamentalism, whether religious based, politically based or otherwise always results in hatred, bigotry and violence against others that do not ‘believe’ in what we believe in or aspire to become.

We must always guard ourselves from becoming what we detest in others!

Paul in Canada

March 30th, 2010

You must be the change you want to see in the world.
Mahatma Gandhi

Jim Burroway

March 30th, 2010

David. I agree that —-‘s comment was completely inappropriate and a violation of our comments policy. He or she is now in moderation, and I have removed all comments except for the first. I’ve retained the first only because others have left comments in response, and their comments would be devoid of context without it.

We are unable to moderate comments in real-time. But if I had seen that comment earlier, I would have deleted it. Comments like this have no place in our forum.

David C.

March 30th, 2010

Irrespective of all our tiptoeing around the issue, religion has for too long and in too many places enjoyed a free rein to run roughshod over the rights of human beings irrespective of their beliefs, values, history, culture, or conscience. It has also been for too long tabu to challenge the manifestation of religious intolerance, hatred, bigotry, subversion of secular government and political systems, and damaging impact on social and political discourse.

This is not a call to end religion but an indictment of tyranny operating in the name of religion—any religion.

At some point in time, an enlightened world society must call for the protection of human rights from suppression for religious reasons or for any reason, and do so firmly, forthrightly, and with intent through political, economic, and social sanctions against those nations that work against the rights of the individual. Those states that refuse to respect the individual should be isolated and punished economically by the nations where living, breathing human beings are valued more than profit, superstition, legend, myth, or mere belief.

Freedom of religion does not mean allowing religion and its institutions to have an unfettered way within society. It means protecting the freedom of conscience for everyone, and making that a policy of modern society throughout the world.

It is time for us as a species to demand that mere belief not trump the rights of the individual to fully live and enjoy life in a peaceful way according to their own conscience, irrespective of how many gods occupy their pantheon—even if there are none.


March 30th, 2010

Indonesian Muslims are generally very tolerant of sexual minorities:

Google waria or Indonesia waria for more information.

This story is very worrisome. Does this signal a shift in Indonesian culture away from tolerance toward intolerance at a time when much of the world is becoming more accepting? I hope not. Most of the Indonesians I know are very accepting.


March 30th, 2010

BC Canuck,

I don’t think it does signal that. If anything, things have calmed down over the past 5 years.

The Islamist parties saw a steep decline in their votes in the 2009 election compared to the previous in 2004 (and 1999). Word from the laki-laki on the jalan… is that voters were actually turned off BECAUSE the Islamist parties had gained power in more than a few local areas and a lot of people didn’t like what they saw. The 2009 election was a marked turn back to secularism. Hopefully sustained.

However, Islamists are still very strong in some local areas, particularly East Java. (which is where you’ll find that steaming heap of humanity called Surabaya). The nearby city of Solo, an otherwise attractive if drowsy old place, is home to some of the most noxious elements.

It’s also worth noting that the party considered to be the most conservative Islamist (the PKS) held it’s votes from 2004 to 2009. It was the more moderate Islamist parties that went into free fall. This suggests that earlier support for the Islamists as a whole wasn’t all that religious in nature — they attracted otherwise moderate or secular voters for a period from the late 1990’s until about 2006.

(There remains a hard-core bunch of religious cranks who will vote PKS (or worse) regardless of what else is going on. Yes, just like Oklahoma. And just like Oklahoma the local law, and even the citizenry, can be in cahoots with the religious cranks at times. It will be interesting to see if anyone does get arrested over the IGLA event.)

Indonesia has also seen a recent upsurge of localised religious tensions in places like Sulawesi and Maluku. Christians/Catholics often dominate locally, and have just as many nutters as do the Islamists. The Court case against the blasphemy laws is running at a time when many may be thinking that removing the entire law would be a dangerous path to take right now.

The stuff about “goverment recognised religions”… urgh, that would need about 200 pages to do the subject and the history justice. At one level laws are worded very much like anti-slander laws against religious faiths, at another level it’s a law against blasphemy, at another it’s a law directed at ‘religious trouble makers’, or a law that protects the minority religions, or a statute used to repress minority religions, or free speech. And let’s not forget Pancasila in all it’s equally messy ways. Confused? Good.

Most Indonesians, Muslin Javanese or not, are rather prudish about public displays of affection by couples. Local men can hold hands on the street, straight couples can get hisses. But most Indonesians are also fairly blasé when it comes to feeling inclined to say or do anything about what goes on between two men behind closed doors. Private matter, end of discussion (actually, what’s to discuss?). We’ve never had a problem travelling as a couple. If anything, the prudishness protects you — they’d rather drop dead in ember-faced embarrassment than be so rude as to inquire after why two men wanted that particular room.

You also might be unfortunate enough to run into a Muslim or Christian or Catholic fanatic. Then again, one need not travel all the way to Java just to enjoy having that type of encounter :)

Lynn David

March 31st, 2010

The Blasphemy Law, which is currently under review at the Constitutional Court, prohibits alternative interpretations of the six officially recognised religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism; others are officially banned.

What happens when the Catholic start giving their version of the Protestant heresies, not to mention Islam? Such laws for that reason are always rather foolish, except when used against people most of their religions don’t like, such as gays, lesbians or atheists.


March 31st, 2010

Indonesia used to be very tolerant. However the issues between gay and lesbian, and the issue of transgenders (Waria, as we call it), are very different thing.

Most people acknowledge the existence of transgenders or Waria (Although they could only be active in certain industry). But most people are not even aware of the existence of gay and lesbian, or even the word ‘homosexual’.

Most people believed that being gay is a lifestyle of liberal from the western world. Most of Indonesians are moderate. They are neither Liberal nor Conservative. Just like how they don’t like the muslim militants, who are conservatives, they also don’t like liberals who enjoys too much freedom.

And the western’s visibility of gay people, are much closer to being liberal. That’s why gay activists in here are having a hard time trying to gather supporters, because they think that we are liberals.

And grantdale are right. The conservatives are losing supports from all sides because people are turned off by it. However, the conservatives are creating new strategies for their agenda. And this time, it is to fake themselves as moderate during election. But once they are running the office, their true color shows. And most people are unable to shake them from their position.

Paul in Canada

March 31st, 2010

Well said David C. and thanks BTB for moderating, and clarifying, what is not acceptable!

Thanks BTB also, as I’ve said before, for keeping us aware of these abuses by religionist and politicians, of basic human rights.

David C – well said – ‘faith’ has an important place in our cultures and societies, but fundamentalism, no matter what form it takes, must never trump, deminish or eliminate tolerance, equality and the safety/security of all humans!

I think our foreign affairs departments, and the UN bodies, need to address this human rights violation as they have Uganda – diplomatic letters and conversations highlighting that the world is watching is an important element of keeping fundamentalism in check.


March 31st, 2010

@Lynn the conservatives has once tried to challenge Christianity using that blasphemy law during the early 2000s. But it fails.

So now, the conservatives are challenging ALL kinds of interpretation of Islam, OTHER than the ones they worships.

@grantdale for two men walking down the street holding hands, will be reacted exactly the same as a heterosexual walking down the street holding hands. There’s always some ‘gasps’ involved and some ‘sneer’.

paul j stein

March 31st, 2010

Vote with your dollars. When a natural disaster hits a repressive country I will not be sending any “GAY AMERICAN DOLLARS” to help out. Sorry to say this but, “Let them handle it themselves”.


March 31st, 2010

@Uki, you’re right — strickly speaking they don’t hold hands. They hold fingers. Little ones. My fault for being unclear. Holding hands would be out of place.

For the others: it is more common in rural areas and towns. It’s also more common for the older generation. (Especially taking an evening stroll in that soft night air.) I wouldn’t advise two white guys to do it, we already look unexpected enough as it is. I also wouldn’t advise trying to do it during afternoon rush ‘hour’ in Jakarta :)

Uki, if you don’t mind me asking — which city do you live in? We first visited Indonesia in 1994 and it certainly was much more relaxed all those years ago. (most young women didn’t wear a jilbab in daily life, but now most do). Life does seem more tense these days, but hopefully things are also continuing to improve.


Timothy I also meant to add: nice choice of photo. You picked what is probably the most iconic looking masjid in Indonesia! Pity about where it’s located though…


March 31st, 2010

@Paul in Canada

Please stop insulting many of us with false equivalencies. In the name of religion people routinely carry out actual violent persecution of LGBT people, up to murdering us with the approval of the state. When LGBT people start to violently persecute religious people please come back with your ‘pity the poor ideology’ farce. Until then it is snarky words on the Internet versus murder, torture and imprisonment.

Also for all your ‘hate is hate ‘ rhetoric the record in Canada and Europe shows ‘hate speech’ laws are used most often by conservative Muslims to silence critics of Islam, both on the political left and right. Also the proponents of ‘hate speech’ just never seem to get around to removing blatant misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and general calls for violence against non-believers from ‘holy books’. Is that because ‘respect for faith’ always seems to trump human rights for women and sexual minorities?


March 31st, 2010

@grantdale I live in Bogor, a city south of Jakarta. Bogor has become a new basis for the extremists. Almost all terrorists that has been captured, lived for some time in Bogor. Currently, I work in an organization specific for MSM (Men who have sex with Men) in Jakarta, so I work commuting.

btw, even though many women are wearing jilbab these days, they are not more conservative than previous. It’s a lot more to do with fashion than ideology. In fact, from my opinion, women who are wearing headscarf are much more open minded and reject conservatives ideas than the one who aren’t wearing one. But that’s just my experience.

But as I said, most Indonesians are moderate. Even though they are not conservative, they are also not liberal. So, the approach for a discussion of sexual orientation is very tricky in here. Gay rights movement in Indonesia must be approached completely different than in the the western world.


March 31st, 2010


“It’s a lot more to do with fashion than ideology. In fact, from my opinion, women who are wearing headscarf are much more open minded and reject conservatives ideas than the one who aren’t wearing one. But that’s just my experience.”

I know you frame this as your opinion, but that characterisation simply makes no sense at all. You want us to accept the premise that the person conforming to the blatantly inegalitarian religious superstition is more “open minded” than the person defying the broad social trend of adopting it?

Even if many women adopting headscarves are not genuinely religious, the kind of sheep who go along with the flock to avoid trouble are not the type to stick their neck out of for liberal causes, especially ones that do not directly relate to themselves. Since the headscarf serves the purpose of depersonalising women, the limited ability to express “fashion” through it does not pass the laugh test.

Are you sure you are not in denial about just how conservative Indonesia has become?


April 1st, 2010

@Victoria, I’m sorry, I was actually smiling from your responses. And no, I’m not in denial. And no, headscarves are used here, not meant to depersonalising women. For women wearing headscarves is just the same as women who wears bikinis on the street. It’s a personal belief that makes them feel like they are proud of themselves. I have some friends who are wearing headscarves, and they usually hangout with other girls who wears ‘skimpy’ clothing, and one of them is a lesbian as well. And it was okay. Those kinds of sights, is quite common in here.

You obviously have never been to Indonesia before. Islam in here, is completely different than the one in the middle east. Even the middle eastern people doesn’t like us that much because we are more tolerant than any other. And middle eastern people who disagree with the over conservative view of their country, usually migrate to Indonesia.

The people in here aren’t more conservative than ever. However, the government is. And that includes the owner of media as well. That’s why you’re judgment are clouded, you only see the package, but never see the content.


April 1st, 2010

@Uki — thank-you for the response. I agree that it is difficult to explain how Islam in Indonesia differs to Islam in the middle east to someone who hasn’t experienced it. (People from Turkey often say the same thing about Islam in their society).

Your comments about who is and isn’t wearing the jilbab were also interesting. I’m not sure which way to think — people say different things. I guess it also depends on which part of the country. I agree that the jilbab has become something of ‘standard dress’ for many, rather than an ideological statement. Rather like my grandmother’s days when no woman left her house without wearing a hat. She wasn’t really dressed without a hat on.

(We use public buses etc a lot in Indonesia and are always amazed how women manage to keep their jilbab spotless and unwrinkled. 2 hours on a crowded public bus and we look like we’ve been dragged backwards through a coal mine!)

Over the years we’ve also had a lot of conversations with people working for gay rights or HIV prevention in Indonesia. You are very right about the cultural differences and how these require a different approach even though much is also the same as anywhere in the World.

Thanks again, and our very best wishes with your work too. We’ll think of you commuting down to Jakarta every day — at least you will get to catch up on all your reading :)

ps: We have also noted the rise in extremist groups moving into around Bogor in recent years. It is particularly saddening because Bogor has many happy memories for us. (We don’t even mind all the rain. Keeps the town nice and clean!). The photo I keep on my desk of Dale was taken at a food cart in Bogor late at night… it makes me quietly smile every time I look at it.


April 1st, 2010

Well, at least, this case is the first time that gay rights has been put up into the mainstream issue. It may be good, it may be bad. Most gay rights movement these days have been trying to avoid publicity or was just as a gathering place. Now they have no choice to come out to the public because of this. Most of my friends said that they are both scared and excited at the same time.

All gay rights NGOs are going to have a large meeting anytime soon. They used to never talk about human rights, and most programs usually consists about HIV prevention. They are wanting to try for a new approach. But the members are all fidgeting. They are really also scared for planning this new approach.

ps: @grantdale, Bogor now has been a place famous for it’s foods. We even have a program called “Culinary Travel”. Me and my friends sometimes go to a “Culinary Hunt” in Bogor.


April 2nd, 2010

btw, here’s one interesting insight from one of the participants at the ILGA conference in Surabaya.

Interesting story, and you should realize, this is what we are currently involved in. Fundamentalists in higher ups, but supportive people from the civil people.


April 2nd, 2010

Uki — thanks again. Your comments have been valuable and I think everyone has learnt a few new things. It will be interesting to see how NGOs and your work evolves over the next few years. You probably feel like you are all explorers about to enter the jungle at the moment. As you said “Scared and excited at the same time”.

On another note… you got the two of us dragging out all our photos from the past 15 years last night. We don’t look too different. I think we’ve aged rather gracefully :) It was fun to look over the photos — even the early ones only seem like yesterday.

Dale kept murmuring “Bogor” and “martabak manis” with a distant look in his eyes… maybe it’s time we returned to Bogor for a “Culinary Hunt”!

ps: this is the photo of Dale that sits on my desk. Of course it was raining — it’s Bogor!


April 3rd, 2010

@grantdale There’s a lot of things happening in Bogor. But that kind of kiosk still exists even until now :-)

Let’s just save our chat for later, so that we wouldn’t get banned from straying off topics :P lol

btw, a coalition of NGOs and lawyers from all kinds of fields are planning to sue the government and the police for banning the conference. They’re going to hold a press conference anytime soon.

This controversy is getting exciting :-)

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