Last week was a particularly devastating one for Indonesia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
A public caning in Aceh, a police raid on a Jakarta sauna, and a new task force, has injected new venom into an already hostile environment.
This report is from KBR Jakarta.
Two men stand on a stage, dressed in white robes. Their heads are hung, as a cane lashes their backs. Over and over again. 83 times. One winces in pain. The other remains stoic.
Outside Syuhada Mosque, Aceh thousands of people have gathered to watch. They’re shouting insults and cheering.
The men are being punished for their sexuality.
In March, vigilantes broke in the door to their rented room, and found the men in bed together, filmed them naked, and circulated the video.
One of the men, 20, has since been forced to leave university and his medical studies.
Aceh is the only Indonesian province to practice sharia law, and the only province where homosexuality is illegal.
“This is the first case of sodomy. We have caned them because there is enough proof that they violated sharia law,” stated Yusniar, head of Banda Aceh Municipal Police and Task Force for the enforcement of Sharia Law.
He says Aceh police consider caning an effective punishment for immoral behavior.
"We’re imposing a social sanction and physical punishment. We intentionally create a punishment that others can witness,” he revealed. “This is in order to make an impact so that the violations are not repeated. Corporal punishment is normal. And if it is public it has a domino effect."
But human rights groups across the country strongly reject the action.
"The caning is a violation of human rights, and degrading to human dignity,” asserted Muhammad Nurkhoiron, Special Rapporteur with the National Commission on Human Rights.
“Punishment must go through a clear, transparent process and must be consistent with human rights,” he continued. “Moreover, the caning punishment was done on suspicion only, the proof is not clear. It is discriminates towards same-sex couples.”
The men, 20 and 23 were sentenced to 85 lashes, but two months in prison replaced two lashes, and the men finally received 83.
Another 8 people were caned on the same day, punishment for being alone with a member of the opposite sex.
But Lini Zurlia, of LGBT advocacy group, Arus Pelangi says this is a clear case of discrimination.
“Of those couples, five couples, four couples only got 30 lashes. But the gay couple they got 85 lashes,” explained Zurlia. “That is the first discrimination that we see in this process. The other is legal aid. So our friends in Aceh, they don’t get any fair trial… it was very fast, so no lawyer, no legal aid.”
Since early last year, homophobia has become more virulent and more brazen across Indonesia.
Growing hostility towards Indonesia’s largely discrete LGBT community is being felt in many ways. Transgender people report being denied medical care and housing, for instance.
Just two days before the caning, a Jakarta sauna was raided by police, and 141 men detained. The men were taken to the police station, many naked and some barely dressed.
Photos and videos of the naked men in police custody spread like wildfire, which Lini says is likely to have devastating personal impacts.
“They may get fired from their workplace. They might be isolated from their family. They might be bullied by society after the inhumane action of the police,” she said.
Homosexuality is not illegal outside of Aceh. Most of the 141 men have been released. But 10 are still in custody, facing ambiguous charges of pornography.
Andris told me he realized his friend was arrested in the raid when he saw his photo on social media. When he visited his friend, who is detained at the police station, Andris says they were ridiculed, taunted and harassed by police.
“I got bullied. Me and my friend got bullied. Verbal abusive, very verbal[ly] abusive,” he shakily told me. “And then the most painful thing was when the policeman is asking me to oral sex his friend. Like do you want to oral sex him, pointing at his friend, another policeman,” Andris told me, nearly in tears.
“It was very hurtful.”
In the meantime, Arus Pelangi claims that police have obstructed access to legal aid and family.
The raid on Atlantis gym and sauna is the third raid on a so-called ‘gay party’ this year.
While vigilante groups spearheaded the two previous raids, in Jakarta and Surabaya. Lini says they’re all part of a sustained attack.
“So we suspect this is happening as a pre-condition to passing anti-homosexual and anti-LGBT laws, which are currently being pushed through the Constitutional Court and the revision of the Criminal Code in the Parliament,” she said.
Indonesia’s entire criminal code is currently under review, and conservatives are pushing to criminalise homosexuality and extramarital sex in the process.
After the caning, police in Indonesia’s most populous province, West Java, announced a special task force to target LGBT people. It will utilize intelligence services, and police have urged residents to report any suspected LGBT activity.
After a tough week, Andris is still supporting his friend in police custody. Like other LGBT Indonesians, he’s doing his best to hold it together.
“I am angry, sad, desperate also. But somehow deep down in myself, I won’t let those feelings go out… I will not show him my sadness also. How can I support him also if my heart cannot stand this also?” he asked through tears.