An organization that promotes in HIV/AIDS prevention and sex worker rights may be the latest casualty in Indonesia’s ongoing LGBT moral panic after a raid on one of their offices, by a local hardline Islamic organization, in Riau’s capital city of Pekanbaru.
Members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), accompanied by members of the military and police (reportedly there to prevent any conflict) as well as local residents of Pekanbaru’s Air Putih Village, raided an office belonging to the secretariat of the Indonesian Social Change Organization (OPSI) on Tuesday afternoon.
According to its website, OPSI is a a national network of sex workers who work with the government and others organizations on HIV and STI prevention, including the National AIDS Commission. The Pekanbaru secretariat office of OPSI is clearly identified by a sign in front of its building.
Those who conducted the raid on the office justified it by claiming that local resident had become concerned by “unusual activities” at the house, including music playing late and people coming in-and-out of the building in the night, including men wearing women’s clothes.
“Several times I saw busy activities in the house. Until 2 am after midnight. Loud music, and men came, but those like women, wearing short skirts,” one resident, Zulfahmi, said as quoted by Republika.
He and others said the raid was carried out because they suspected the office was being used as a place for “LGBT activities”.
Despite homosexual acts not being illegal in Indonesia (except in the province of Aceh, which has special autonomy to enact sharia-based laws), authorities in many cities have, of late, been persecuting LGBT individuals and organizations on the grounds of protecting public morality.
The owner of OPSI’s office building and the local chair of the organization, Ruli Ramadhani, said the office already had proper permits from both the provincial government and the local village administration. He also said that their office was focused on HIV awareness and prevention. He said the group did not specifically support LGBT rights or activities.
“We are giving information (to former members of the LGBT community) and those who are still active. We do not legalize or support (LGBT). We are not a special group for that and we only provide information,” Ruli said as quoted by Merdeka.
The village head of the neighborhood the office was located in, Supriyadi, confirmed to the media that he had indeed been consulted about the opening of the office and was aware of its HIV/AIDS awareness work.
Authorities did display some of the “suspicious” evidence found in the raid including condoms (which is, of course, a completely reasonable thing to find at an organization working on HIV prevention) and a “pink” room.
Police said they would continue to investigate the office but did not indicate what further action against OPSI they might take.
Some observers believe the recent rise in state-sponsored discrimination against the LGBT community in Indonesia is being pushed by officials trying to score points with conservative voters ahead of this April’s national elections.
Besides religious objections, anti-LGBT authorities often use the threat of HIV/AIDS as a justification for persecuting members of the protected minority group. However, studies have shown that the fear of discrimination and stigmatization is actually exacerbating the country’s HIV rates by making it less likely for vulnerable populations to receive outreach.