Human rights activists called on Indonesia’s sharia-run Aceh province to release four people in their early 20s detained on suspicion of having gay sex, amid concerns over the persecution of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the fundamentalist Sumatran region.
Aceh is the only Indonesian province to allow sharia, or Islamic law, and criminalise gay sex, which was part of the peace deal that ended a prolonged civil war.
Indonesian MPs are currently debating revisions to the national criminal code that could criminalise all pre-marital sex, including same-sex relations.
The bill has the support of most of the country’s main political parties.
Many believe the new rules could be used to target the LGBT community.
Andreas Harsono, Indonesia’s Human Rights Watch (HRW) representative, said the new law “will create new discriminatory offences that do not exist in the current criminal code”.
“It will slow down Indonesia’s efforts to develop their economy, society, knowledge, education … if law enforcement agencies are busy policing morality. It’s sounding like the Acehnese sharia code,” the rights activist added.
The Indonesian Psychiatrists Association classifies homosexuality, bisexuality and defining oneself as transgender as illnesses.
The four suspects were seized by vigilantes and police and could face up to 100 public lashes.
Police claim to have discovered evidence of gay sex, including condoms and “transaction money”, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
“We are completing their files and will soon hand over to prosecutors,” said Marzuki, sharia police chief in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital.
HRW said lashing “constitutes torture under international human rights law”.
“Acehnese authorities should release the four and protect the public from marauding vigilantes who target vulnerable minorities,” said Graeme Reid, LGBT representative rights chief at the New York based NGO.
Last year two men were publicly caned (pictured) under Aceh’s anti-homosexuality laws, which were introduced in 2014.
Vigilantes and the religious police in Aceh often perform raids to crackdown on homosexual activity.
Twelve transgender women were arrested in the province earlier this year and were publicly forced to cut their hair and dress in “masculine” clothes.
The raid on supposedly transgender salons was called an “operasi penyakit masyarakat”, translating as “community sickness operation”.
They were later released without charge, but activists say many are now in hiding.
Two university students were also detained before going on trial for allegedly having gay sex in Aceh.
One of the arrested students is a Christian Batak, while the other is Muslim.
Crowds gather for an Aceh flogging last year. Picture credit: YouTube