Indonesia 'anti-LGBT abuses' fuel HIV cases: Human Rights Watch

Conservative politicians and hardline Islamist groups have been increasingly vocal against the vulnerable community in recent years.
Conservative politicians and hardline Islamist groups have been increasingly vocal against the vulnerable community in recent years. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA (AFP) - A crackdown on Indonesia's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community is fuelling a spike in HIV cases as at-risk people avoid prevention services or seeking treatment, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Monday (July 2).

Conservative politicians and hardline Islamist groups have been increasingly vocal against the vulnerable community in recent years, while lawmakers eyed outlawing gay sex in the world's biggest Muslim-majority country.

Police conducted "arbitrary and unlawful" raids on places frequented by LGBT people, including saunas, nightclubs, hotel rooms, hair salons, and even private homes, HRW said.

That has discouraged some at-risk groups from accessing prevention and treatment services, according to the report, entitled Scared In Public And Now No Privacy: Human Rights And Public Health Impacts Of Indonesia's Anti-LGBT Moral Panic.

As a result, HIV rates among men who have sex with other men have soared five times since 2007, from 5 per cent to 25 per cent, HRW said, adding that the group accounted for one-third of Indonesia's new infections.

"The Indonesian government's failure to address anti-LGBT moral panic is having dire consequences for public health," said Mr Kyle Knight, LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch and the report's author.

"The Indonesian government should recognise that its role in abuses against LGBT people is seriously compromising the country's response to HIV."

The country's conservative lurch has dented the success Indonesia had in slowing new HIV infections in recent decades, HRW said.

Indonesia had about 48,000 new HIV infections and 38,000 Aids-related deaths in 2016, with only 13 per cent of those infected getting treatment, according to UN figures.

Last year, Indonesian police rounded up at least 300 people and often publicly humiliated them because of their presumed sexual orientation and gender identity - a jump from previous years and the highest such number ever recorded.

The raids have led to the closure of establishments where outreach workers would often meet and counsel gay men, provide condoms and offer voluntary HIV tests.

"It is devastating that these clubs have closed - they were the only places where we could find the community," an HIV outreach worker in Jakarta was quoted as saying in the report.

"Clubs were hot spots for us because we knew that even the discreet guys felt safe about their sexuality inside, so we could do HIV testing and give condoms and they wouldn't be scared to participate."

Gay sex is not illegal in Indonesia. But Parliament has been considering changes to its legal code which initially included banning gay sex, although that has reportedly been dropped from the draft proposal after a backlash.

Sex outside marriage - which would include gay couples - may still be outlawed under the proposed overhaul.