After LGBT paranoia threatened to shut it down, gov’t defends HIV prevention group in Riau

The secretariat office of the Indonesian Social Change Organization (OPSI) in Pekanbaru.  Photo: Opsi Riau / Facebook
The secretariat office of the Indonesian Social Change Organization (OPSI) in Pekanbaru. Photo: Opsi Riau / Facebook

Activists warn that the LGBT panic in Indonesia is not only causing wide scale discrimination and persecution against the protected minority group, it is also helping to create a public health crisis by making it more difficult for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment services to reach vulnerable populations.

The office of a non-governmental organization that focuses on HIV/AIDS prevention in the city of Pekanbaru in Riau almost became the victim of an anti-LGBT crusade — led by hardline Islamic groups and a local politician — but, in a surprising and heartening development, government officials have decided to stand up for the NGO and its work, concluding that it had done nothing wrong and that it was a protected and legally sanctioned organization.

The secretariat office of the Indonesian Social Change Organization (OPSI) in Pekanbaru was raided on January 15 by members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) as well as local residents and police, allegedly based on suspicions that LGBT “activities” were taking place inside.

Following the raid, the head of Pekanbaru’s Civil Service Police (Satpol PP) said the office should be shut down due to the community’s concerns about its possible support for LGBT behavior, despite acknowledging that OPSI’s only stated goals was to do health consultations for groups vulnerable to HIV and AIDS, specifically sex workers including gay men and transgender individuals.

However, police said a more thorough investigation of OPSI’s operations would take place before any decision was made, as long as the group paused their activities for the time being, which the NGO agreed to do.

The group that did the investigation was fortunately not the Satpol PP but a team from the Pekanbaru office of the National and Political Unity Agency (Kesbangpol), which focuses on resolving conflicts between different levels of the government.

After visiting OPSI’s office last weekend, the Kesbangpol team concluded that there was no “LGBT activity” taking place there, nor could they find any local resident who said they had directly witnessed such activities taking place at the building.

“We have already asked the local RT and RW (neighborhood and community heads) and they assured us that no LGBT practices were taking place there,” explained Pekanbaru Kesbangpol Agency Head Zulkifli to Tribun yesterday. He also mentioned that there was no reports of activity that “disturbed” local residents.

“We are trying to prevent this news from being distorted. Don’t let another party be harmed by this news,” he said.

The Kesbangpol Pekanbaru chief also said that OPSI was a completely legal organization, with proper permits from the local government as well as the backing of the Ministry of Law and Human Rights (Kemenkumham).

Zulkifli did call on OPSI officials to be more open with the community and educate them on their HIV and AIDS prevention work to prevent further misunderstandings and mishaps in the future.

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 January 14 raid on OPSI’s Pekanbaru office was justified by claims that local residents 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, as well as men wearing women’s clothes, leading them to suspect that it 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.

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.

Reports suggest that the raid on OPSI’s office and the ensuing media coverage was orchestrated by a member of the Pekanbaru City Council, Mulyadi Anwar. His Facebook page shows that he was using the raid and the issue of LGBT as a part of his election campaign.


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