After a series of grossly discriminatory remarks by high-ranking government officials targeted at members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, a senior government official has come to the defense of the minority group.
Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Luhut Pandjaitan became the first and most senior government official to publicly defend members of the LGBT community by saying that they had equal position before the law in Indonesia.
'Whoever they are, wherever they work, he or she continues to be an Indonesian citizen. They have the right to be protected as well,' he said at his office in Central Jakarta on Friday.
Luhut said that hostility was not the best way to deal with LGBT people.
'I disagree with evictions, killing or anything like that. I want us to become a civilized country. It [being homosexual] is not what the person wants,' he said.
The remarks came on the heels of numerous inflammatory statements made by government officials.
On Friday, Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform Minister Yuddy Chrisnandi added to the long list of government ministers to attack the LGBT community by saying that homosexuality had no place within the country's bureaucracy.
'Of course it is inappropriate for civil servants to be [homosexual]. Having more than one wife for a man is still normal, even though it is prohibited by regulations and the ethics code, but LGBT is another issue,' he said in Bandung, West Java.
Earlier in January, Technology, Research and High Education Minister Muhammad Nasir publicly called for LGBT people to be barred from universities because they 'corrupted the morals of the nation'.
Also in January, Culture and Primary Education Minister Anies Baswedan warned parents and teachers that LGBT people were deviant and a danger to adolescents.
Besides being targeted by government officials, the LGBT community has also been subjected to violence by community groups.
In October 2015, Sharia police in Aceh province arrested a pair of young women for 'hugging in public'. In November, Brawijaya University authorities canceled an LGBT event, claiming they had received threats of an attack.
Earlier this month, an LGBT human-rights workshop was disrupted by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and its hotel venue heavily pressured to remove the group. The police at the site did nothing to protect the LGBT group and instead pressured it to cancel their event.
The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) recently confirmed that it was preparing a fatwa (an Islamic, non-legally binding edict) that will recommend the prosecution of Muslims who join in LGBT-related activities. Earlier this week, social-media users lashed out against the popular smartphone messaging app Line for putting stickers with gay themes in its online store.
Line has already dropped all LGBT-themed emojis, after saying it had received complaints from users. Now the government is asking major players like Facebook and WhatsApp to follow suit and remove LGBT icons for users in Indonesia.
'No social media should have material that smacks of LGBT. Because we have our own rules, like religious values and norms, which they must respect,' Information and Communication Ministry spokesperson Ismail Cawidu said.
Attacks have also targeted human-rights campaigners fighting to promote the rights of LGBT people.
'There has been increasing pressure and discrimination against our LGBT friends. LGBT activists also feel that they are receiving more pressure. I also receive strange messages, saying that I am not worthy of using the name Muhammad because I defend LGBT people. The message is fueled with hatred,' National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) commissioner Muhammad Nur Khoirun told The Jakarta Post on Friday.
Khoirun said that all this hostility stemmed from a lack of education and information regarding LGBT people.
'Awareness can only come if they know that LGBT people are people who have to be protected and that that is mandated in the Constitution. If state officials were aware of those constitutional rights, then this situation could be fixed,' he said.
The increasing hostility toward the LGBT community has prompted New York-based Human Rights Watch to demand the government defend the rights of LGBT people in a letter sent to President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo on Friday.
'President Jokowi should urgently condemn anti-LGBT remarks by officials before such rhetoric opens the door to more abuses,' said Human Rights Watch LGBT-rights director Graeme Reid. 'The President has long championed pluralism and diversity. This is an opportunity to demonstrate his commitment.'
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