LGBT defenders face escalated attacks in Indonesia – report

Shreya Mallabadi
LGBT defenders face escalated attacks in Indonesia – report
A report by international watchdog Front Line Defenders found that defenders of LGBT rights in Muslim-majority Indonesia, face escalating attacks ranging from defamation on social media to torture and sexual assault

JAKARTA, Indonesia – Amid forced makeovers and violence against transgender women in Aceh, a new report by international watchdog Front Line Defenders found that attacks on LGBT rights defenders are escalating in frequency and violence.

The report, “Attacks on LGBT Rights Defenders Escalating in Indonesia,” includes testimonies from dozens of human rights defenders. It found that 23 out of 25 Human Rights Defenders or HRDs interviewed for the report have received threats for working on issues related to sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression (SOGIE).

Front Line Defenders defines HRDs as people who individually or collectively work peacefully on behalf of others to promote and defend internationally recognized human rights.

These activist groups have been under fire for several years, facing various threats online and offline.

The report’s key findings included a varied range of attacks such as increased posts on social media accounts affiliated with Islamic extremist groups inciting violence against HRDs; physical intimidations, raids and threats perpetrated by extremist groups, local religious police, and state police; physical abuse against friends and family of HRDs; and defamation in the media and violent rhetoric from high-level government officials, among others.

“Our investigation illustrates that the government’s own crackdown on LGBT rights in 2016 emboldened those who want to terrorize human rights defenders into silence,” said Front Line Defenders Executive Director Andrew Anderson in Dublin.

“Ongoing police raids and a failure to respond to attacks against HRDs send the message that violence against peaceful activists is acceptable in Indonesia.”

Social media


Online, a single post about the LGBT community can gain hundreds and thousands of inciting comments, according to the report.

One activist received more than 500 hateful comments on a poem she posted about an anti-LGBT tweet. 

The report said there has also been an increase in homophobia and use of religious terminology. Groups like Islamic Defenders Front, Jaringa Islamia, and the Muslim Brotherhood have carried out attacks on several of the LGBT defenders – often calling them degrading words.

In March 2015, Indonesia’s most prominent Islamic clerical body the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), issued a fatwa or a religious edict condemning same-sex acts and punishing them by caning or giving them the death penalty. This was the strongest anti-LGBT statement made by an Indonesian religious institution. 

In Aceh, the only city in Indonesia that is governed by the Sharia Law, a gay couple aged 20 and 23, were prosecuted under the Aceh Islamic Criminal Code and were sentenced to be publicly caned in May 2017.

Threat to families

The religious police also conduct raids every Friday which have resulted in the HRDs and their families being beaten, tortured or sexually assaulted.

Hartoyo, founder of OurVoice Jakarta and rights defender from Aceh was arrested in the city for living with his male partner. Since then, he has moved out to Jakarta but he still is a victim of death threats and online harassment.

“My biggest fear is that the threats to my family will manifest. The ones to me, well, they already did come true. And I’m pretty sure they will become physical again – the comments are so violent and so common it’s hard to imagine someone won’t act on it,” he is quoted as saying on the report.

“I’ve accepted being hurt or killed for trying to protect LGBT people. But my family didn’t ask for this. I want to make this country better, safer for queer people – but what if that makes it less safe for my family.”

The report also said there is a lack of HRDs as they do not have a safe work environment to continue their efforts. They are in a constant dilemma to either protect themselves or the community.

If one is caught helping the community, his or her family is affected and publicly ostracized – or worse, tortured. This, in turn, leads to the community having fewer people and resources to defend itself in this time of increased need.

Offices of the HRDs too are forced to change locations making them less accessible to the community which in turn erodes the trust formed. The situation has gotten so bleak that community members blame HRDs for bringing about police raids.

Gov’t attitudes

With the upcoming elections in 2019, LGBT issues have finally made it on the list of the contenders of the elections.

In December last year, the Indonesian high court took everybody by surprise by ruling against making gay sex and sex outside of marriage illegal.

While this was a major win for the community at large howevery, many government organizations continue to proclaim their anti-LGBT stance.

Aside from extremist groups, many attacks are instigated by government officials – although there are no national laws on homosexuality, 

“Defamation in the media and violent rhetoric from high-level government officials (such as the Minister of Defense, Minister of Higher Education and Chief of Police of West Java) is a key cause of decreased activism,” said the report. –