Indonesia: Stop Public Flogging of Gay Men

(New York, May 20, 2017) – Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo should immediately intervene to prevent the scheduled May 23, 2017 public flogging of two young men convicted of same-sex sexual relations, Human Rights Watch said today. The men were prosecuted under Aceh province’s abusive Sharia regulations and sentenced to 85 lashes with a cane, which constitutes torture under international law.

On March 28, unidentified vigilantes forcibly entered an apartment in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, and took two men in their twenties to the police for allegedly having same-sex relations. A Sharia (Islamic law) court convicted them of sodomy on May 17. While Aceh’s Sharia courts have enforced public flogging before, this is the first time that Sharia courts have sentenced people to flogging for homosexual acts.

“President Jokowi has spoken out in support of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Indonesia, so the imminent public flogging of two young men for same-sex relations is a crucial moment to act,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Jokowi needs to be clear to Aceh’s authorities that flogging is torture for which they will be held to account.”

Aceh’s Sharia ordinances empower members of the public as well as the special Sharia police to publicly identify and detain anyone suspected of violating its rules. Cell phone video footage of the raid apparently shot by a vigilante shows one of the two men visibly distressed as he calls for help on his cellphone.

Under Aceh’s Islamic Criminal Code (Qanun Jinayah), the men faced up to 100 lashes in public as punishment for same-sex behavior. The prosecutor recommended 80 lashes because the men were young and reportedly admitted their guilt.

“The court’s less-than-maximum sentence of 85 lashes is no act of compassion. It does not change the reality that flogging is a grotesque display of medieval torture,” Kine said.

Local government officials in Aceh have long stoked discrimination against LGBT people, Human Rights Watch said. In 2012 then-Banda Aceh Deputy Mayor Illiza Sa’aduddin Djamal advocated harsh punishments for homosexuality, telling the media: “Even if one case of homosexuality [is] found, it’s already a problem.” In 2013, after Djamal was elected mayor of Banda Aceh, she told reporters that “homosexuals are encroaching on our city.” In February 2016, she announced she would create a “special team” to make the public more aware of the “threat of LGBT” and to “train” LGBT people to “return to a normal life” while posting an image of herself to Instagram holding a handgun and vowing to flush LGBT people out of Aceh.

Aceh’s Sharia police have previously detained LGBT people. In October 2015, Sharia police arrested two women, ages 18 and 19, on suspicion of being lesbians for embracing in public and detained them for three nights at a Sharia police facility in Banda Aceh. Sharia police repeatedly attempted to compel the two women to identify other suspected LGBT people in Aceh by showing them photographs of individuals taken from social media accounts – sparking fears among LGBT people in Aceh that the Sharia police could target them in the future.

In April 2016, four United Nations special rapporteurs wrote to the Indonesian government expressing concerns about the abusive enforcement of Sharia against LGBT people in Aceh. In October 2016, Jokowi broke his long silence on escalating anti-LGBT rhetoric by defending the rights of the country’s LGBT community, saying that “there should be no discrimination against anyone.”

“The clock is ticking for Jokowi to demonstrate that his support of equal rights for all is not empty rhetoric. He needs to start by protecting these two young men from torture,” Kine said.