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Jakarta Post

Transgender Muslims in fear after school shutdown

  • Bambang Muryanto

    The Jakarta Post

Yogyakarta   /   Mon, February 29, 2016   /  06:57 am

Students at Al Fatah Pesantren Waria, an Islamic boarding school for transgender students, in Yogyakarta are living in fear after the forced closure of their religious education facility following pressure from a hardline group.

The students were tight-lipped when asked by journalists to comment on the situation and went straight to their rooms at an old Javanese house in Jagalan subdistrict, Banguntapan district, where they live and learn about the Koran and Islam.

The school'€™s director, Shinta Ratri, also refused to talk to journalists, saying that she had no plans for the school in the near future.

'€œI'€™m still exhausted and want to calm down,'€ Shinta, who is a bridal stylist, said in a text message over the weekend.

'€œLife must go on. I have to work.'€

Last Wednesday, a meeting involving local administration officials, residents, Shinta and members of the hardline Islamist group Islamic Jihad Front (FJI) Yogyakarta decided to shut down the school.

The meeting, which was held at the Jagalan subdistrict hall, also agreed to forbid any religious activities at the school.

Banguntapan district head Jati Bayu Broto, who was also the moderator of the meeting, said the decision had been made because the school did not have a license to operate and locals had complained about late-night karaoke and parking problems. It was also claimed that alcoholic drinks had been found at the school.

Wednesday'€™s meeting was a follow-up to FJI'€™s visit to Al Fatah on Feb. 19. FJI reportedly visited the school to learn about the school'€™s activities. However, when the FJI arrived at Al Fatah, the school'€™s management had gone to a police station to report a message allegedly sent by the FJI stating that the group wanted to seal the school.

Aditya Arief Hermanto of the Yogyakarta Legal Aid Foundation (LBH) said the decision to close down the school was a human rights violation.

'€œThe right [of transgender students] to get an education has been denied,'€ he told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

Aditya deplored the Banguntapan Police for ignoring the school'€™s report of intimidation by the hardline Islamic group. The FJI circulated on social media a message stating that the group intended to forcibly seal the school.

'€œThe police rejected the report, arguing that they had no cyber unit,'€ Aditia said.

'€œFor that reason, they should'€™ve used the Criminal Code as a legal basis to investigate the suspected perpetrators.'€

Banguntapan Police chief Comr. Suharno confirmed that his office had no cyber unit and suggested that the school report the case to the Bantul Police or the headquarters of the Yogyakarta Police.

'€œWe will accompany them to report the case,'€ Suharno said.

Waria is a portmanteau of the Indonesian words for woman (wanita) and man (pria) and is often used to describe transgender women.

Yogyakarta'€™s Al Fatah was originally located in the Notoyudan area before it was moved to Jagalan after the death of Maryani, the school'€™s founder, in 2014.

Maryani received local and international media attention in 2008 when she transformed her home into a place for transgender people to study Islam.

After Maryani'€™s death, the school moved to a house belonging to Shinta Ratri, a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) activist. Dozens of students study together under the same roof and some of them also live there.

Meanwhile, activists who supported the school also said that they were cooling down after the closure.

'€œWe fear for the safety of the students and our volunteers,'€ Indonesian Family Planning Association Yogyakarta chapter director Gama Triono said.

The school'€™s supervisor, Abdul Muhaimin, said he would try to re-establish the school. Muhaimin rejected the argument that the school was unlicensed and disturbed neighboring residents.

'€œWhy does learning Islam need a permit? If it'€™s about the parking, we can manage it. A parking issue should not disturb their rights to get an education,'€ he said.

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