Indonesian gays threatened with imprisonment for blasphemy
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.
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.