Sun, Feb 11, 2018 - Page 5 News List

Indonesia law revamp plan chills LGBT community

Reuters, JAKARTA

A man is publicly caned on May 23 last year for having gay sex in Aceh Province, Indonesia.

Photo: Reuters

Zulfikar Fahd, an openly gay man, said he flew from Indonesia to Canada late last month and claimed asylum on grounds that he faced discrimination and persecution in his home country, which is poised to criminalize same-sex relations and consensual sex outside marriage.

Fahd, 30, who had worked in public relations, said he had already given up hope that police would provide him protection against Islamic fundamentalists who have fomented hostility toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in this Muslim-majority country, which is also the world’s third-largest democracy.

Police have stood by while vigilantes have stormed “gay sex parties” and have themselves broken up gatherings at spas and hostels, charging some with violating strict pornography laws, and prompting many others to go underground.

Authorities have also been clamping down online, blocking many LGBT sites or getting LGBT apps removed by host companies, including dating apps.

Until now, homosexuality has not been regulated by law in Indonesia, except in the ultra-conservative Aceh Province where Islamic law bans same-sex relations.

However, as lawmakers look to shore up conservative votes ahead of elections, parliament appears on the verge of revising the national criminal code to impose restrictions on same-sex relations and consensual sex between men and women outside marriage.

Various drafts of the criminal code have appeared. The latest, although not necessarily the final one, seeks the prosecution of same-sex relations if an act is carried out in public, if there is evidence of abuse, or if a minor is involved.

Unmarried cohabiting couples or those engaging in extramarital sex could be prosecuted only if there is a complaint from a close relative.

Adultery is already a crime in Indonesia.

Under the proposals, those found guilty of a public act of gay sex could be sentenced to up to 18 months in prison, and up to nine years if there is evidence of abuse or video of the act is published. Heterosexual couples found living together without being married could face up to six months in prison, and two years if engaging in sex outside marriage.

Rights activists said the proposed rules could breach basic rights like privacy and could be subject to interpretation by vigilantes, police and courts so that a party in someone’s home could be deemed a public event.

“The police are not doing anything to protect us. In fact, they stand by and let things happen, almost as if they have a deal with the conservatives and vigilantes,” Fahd told reporters by telephone from Ottawa. “If they enact this new law, this kind of vigilantism will be out of control.”

Fahd said he has been granted temporary residency in Canada and has a final immigration hearing in May.

Cases before the Canadian Refugee Protection Division, where all refugee claims in the country are initially adjudicated, are private, Immigration and Refugee Board spokeswoman Anna Pape said.

Concord Consulting, a Jakarta-based risk consultancy, said in a recent report that Indonesia has much to lose from allowing homophobic attitudes to take hold of society, including potentially foreign investment, donor assistance and vital tourism earnings.

Travel Web sites aimed at LGBT holidaymakers indicate the gay scene remains vibrant in Bali, the cornerstone of Indonesia’s tourism industry, but some in the industry fear the new rules could deter gay travelers.

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