Indonesia: gay men facing 100 lashes for having sex

Case could become the first time Aceh’s sharia law has been enforced against homosexuality

Man whipped in Aceh
The men each face up to 100 strokes of the cane after neighbours reported them to Islamic religious police. Photograph: Heri Juanda/AP

in Badung, Indonesia

Two gay Indonesian men have been arrested and face 100 lashes in a case that is drawing international attention to the enforcement of controversial new Islamic bylaws in the semi-autonomous Aceh province.

Mobile phone footage, showing vigilantes slapping one of the young men as he sits naked on the ground awaiting arrest by local sharia police, has been shared on social media in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

Human Rights Watch has demanded their immediate release, saying their possible punishment – a public beating with a stick – constitutes torture.

The sentence has already been meted out for crimes such as adultery, but it is believed this would be the first time Aceh’s new statutes concerning religion and morality could be enforced against homosexuality.

Aceh is the only region in Indonesia, a plural democracy, which allows local authorities to maintain parallel laws and police forces based on religious interpretations.

The province, sitting on the northern tip of Sumatra island and holding about 2% of Indonesia’s population of 250 million, was granted this special status in 2001 as a compromise with historical separatist movements.

The anti-gay law was passed in 2014 and Human Rights Watch says these new statutes and punishments violate human rights treaties to which Indonesia is a party, and has asked president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to intervene.

“The agreement which granted Aceh the legitimate right to form its own local bylaws did not allow them to persecute people for their religion or sexuality,” said Andreas Harsono, a researcher with Human Rights Watch in Indonesia. “Across Indonesia today, we are seeing rising discrimination in the name of Islam, including against women and LGBT community”

In October, the moderate Jokowi spoke out against increased abuse directed at LGBT persons in Indonesia, and said police must act to defend them.

“However, Jokowi has not backed up that statement with action,” said a statement issued by Human Rights Watch on 9 April.

The two men, reportedly aged 20 and 24, were caught on 28 March by unknown men who forcibly entered a home. Local bylaws allow this kind of citizen’s arrest and the men are now being held by sharia police.

In the video, one of the men appears distressed and confused. “Brother, please, help me, help me. We are caught.” he says into a mobile phone.

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