Indonesia’s new sex laws ‘nail in coffin’ for LGBTQ rights

An activist protests newly passed laws in Indonesia that LGBTQ activists say will further deepen their persecution. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

JAKARTA – Indonesia’s legislation banning sex outside marriage represents a major new threat to the LGBTQ community’s rights in the conservative country, where same-sex unions are not recognised.

“It’s another nail in the coffin at the moment – a big nail,” Mr Dede Oetomo, an activist with the LGBTQ rights group GAYa Nusantra, told Agence France-Presse.

Once enacted, the legislation approved on Tuesday in Parliament would punish sex outside marriage with one year in prison, while unmarried people living together could face six months in jail.

The reforms make it riskier for gay couples to live together openly in a country where they already face widespread discrimination and anti-LGBTQ regulations, according to activists.

“Before the new criminal code, it was already bad. People can be searched even in their private residences. Although it was not systematic, it can happen,” Mr Oetomo said.

Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim country, and its Constitution recognises six religions.

Homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia – except in the police, military and in Islamic law-abiding Aceh province – but rights groups say the legislative changes pose an inherent risk to LGBTQ people.

“Many LGBTQ couples have been living together under the radar, as same-sex marriage isn’t allowed here,” said Mr Robby Nasution, a 30-year-old freelancer who lives with his partner in Bali. “With the new law, this means that another right has been taken away from the community.”

Ms Kai Mata, a musician and activist, said LGBTQ communities were “bracing ourselves for impact and backlash” from the legislation, which stood “against our rights to exist”.

The amendments still need to be approved by President Joko Widodo before they come into force.

Living in fear

Mr Albert Aries from Indonesia’s Law and Human Rights Ministry defended the amendments before the vote, saying they would protect the country’s marriage institutions.

Sex outside marriage could only be reported by a spouse, parents or children, drastically limiting the scope of the amendment, he said.

But Mr Andreas Harsono, from Human Rights Watch, said LGBTQ people are “living in fear” in a society that is becoming “more and more conservative”.

“If they are reported by a member of their family, their life can be ruined,” he said.

There are already dozens of national and local regulations that affect LGBTQ people, and some have been arrested on charges of lewd conduct under anti-pornography laws.

In November, two Indonesian soldiers were given a seven-month jail term for having gay sex, which the military deems “inappropriate behaviour”.

At least 15 members of the police and military have been fired in recent years for having gay sex, according to Amnesty International in 2020.

In 2021, in Aceh province, two men were sentenced to nearly 80 lashings each for having sex.

“Of course, I feel this country is not safe for me,” said Mx Gusti Arirang, 29, a musician who identifies as pansexual. “I’m not pessimistic about Indonesia’s future progress as I am trying to stay strong. But now I have more concerns and am more cautious.” AFP

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