Faced with growing criticism over recent anti-LGBT actions in Indonesia, the Jakarta government has told VOA it will safeguard the rights of all minority groups while taking into account “religious and cultural values that must be upheld.”
A statement released by the Indonesian Embassy in Washington responded to a letter last week from 36 members of the U.S. Congress that condemned the Jakarta government’s alleged disregard for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The European Parliament has raised similar concerns.
“For the Indonesian government, the letter expresses U.S. Congress members’ compassion with Indonesia as a democratic, tolerant country with the largest Muslim population in the world and the United States’ important partner in the region,” said the statement, released Tuesday.
Embassy officials declined requests for further comment.
Putting Indonesia ‘on notice’
U.S. Representative Sean Patrick Maloney, who commissioned the letter, said it responds to “a growing pattern of a basic disrespect for human rights” and aims to mitigate the persecution of minority groups in Indonesia.
“By raising the profile of this issue, and simply putting the government on notice, we will see some positive effect,” he told VOA. The New York Democrat, who is a co-chair of the House LGBT Equality Caucus, added: “If we don’t, we’ll take the next step.”
Last month there were several high-profile raids of saunas and “sex parties” in Indonesia, including one that resulted in the arrest of more than 140 men in Jakarta. In West Java, Indonesia’s most populous province, officials have announced the creation of an anti-LGBT “task force,” and a gay couple was publicly caned in conservative Aceh province, in the first application of a 2015 sharia or Islamic law.
Maloney cited the blasphemy case of former Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, who was sentenced to two years in prison in May, as an example of the deteriorating state of tolerance and pluralism in the country.
The letter from the lawmakers also reflected efforts in the United States to reinforce existing federal laws, such as by adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Maloney said.
“If we’re entering a period where the Trump administration is going to downplay the importance of human rights in American foreign policy, then I think it’s even more important that members of Congress make their voices heard,” he added.
His remarks on human rights in Indonesia came a day after the European Parliament adopted a resolution voicing similar sentiments.
The EP resolution also targeted Indonesia’s use of capital punishment and the practice of female genital mutilation.
Ignatius Puguh Priambodo, first secretary at the Indonesian Embassy in Brussels, told VOA the resolution “does not give Indonesia a chance to respond to the issues addressed in it” and ignores Indonesia’s efforts to forge constructive dialogue with the EP.
Andreas Harsono, who tracks Indonesia for Human Rights Watch, said international criticism of Indonesia’s human rights stance would undermine Jakarta’s global standing.
Harsono told VOA that Indonesia’s “childish” response toward the EP resolution avoided directly addressing human rights issues. “This is a request from Indonesia’s allies that Indonesia must pay attention to,” he added.
Yuli Rustinawati, one of the founders of Indonesian LGBTQ advocacy group Arus Pelangi, said anti-LGBT violence had become widespread, and that there had been no adequate response to the problem from the government.
Over the past two years, Rustinawati said: “I don’t think [the government] has responded — no dialogues. That there is violence is a fact; that this must be discussed is a must.”
This report originated on VOA Indonesia.