The women were arrested working at beauty salons in the Indonesian province on Sunday after parents reported that their teenage sons had been seduced by them, according to police chief Ahmad Untung Surianata. The arrests by the religious police come amid a wider crackdown on the Indonesian lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
Raids have targeted lesbian-owned houses and private gay clubs and in 2017 at least 300 LGBT people were detained in police raids across the archipelago.
Surianata said the women were forced to dress as men and had their heads shaved before being released without charge. “We helped them to return to their nature as men and it turned out that they were actually macho,” he said.
“They are happy now because before they were lost in their false identity … we do what we have to do according to the laws.”
Ahmad said the women were allowed to return to work at the salons and would be given training to improve their skills, provided that they dress as men.
Human rights groups condemned the police in the ultra-orthodox Sumatran province over the women being “publicly shamed”.
Aceh is the only one of the 34 Indonesian provinces that enforces Islamic law and outlaws homosexuality, which was allowed to end a prolonged separatist movement in Aceh.
Indonesia’s parliament is deliberating a new criminal code, the current draft of which would criminalise consensual sex between unmarried people, in effect making all same-sex relationships illegal.
Religious police and vigilantes in Aceh regularly raid homes and places of work and detain citizens on suspicion of performing homosexual acts.
“There were mothers who came crying to me, worried about their children,” Ahmad told the media. “This is not right, and we hope this social disease can be resolved.”
Amnesty International said Aceh had become “an increasingly hostile place” for the LGBT community.
“The latest raids on beauty salons are just the latest example of the authorities arbitrarily targeting transgender people simply for who they are,” said Usman Hamid, the Amnesty country representative.
“Cutting the hair of those arrested to ‘make them masculine’ and forcing them to dress like men are forms of public shaming and amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, in contravention of Indonesia’s international obligations.”
Last year, the authorities in Aceh publicly caned two young men accused of engaging in gay sex.
A caning in Aceh. Picture credit: Wikimedia