Sharia police detain 12 transgender women in Aceh salons, shave their heads and give them men’s clothing

Indonesia seems to be experiencing another manufactured moral panic over LGBT rights (as happened in 2016), with legislators from the majority of political parties rushing to voice their support for the criminalization of homosexuality in a new draft version of the country’s criminal code. In Aceh, the one region of Indonesia allowed to implement sharia-based laws, homosexual acts are already illegal (and can be punished with caning) but police are also cracking down heavily on transgender individuals.

Early Sunday morning, sharia police and their civilian counterparts in North Aceh arrested 12 transgender women (referred to locally as waria, a portmanteau of the Indonesian words for woman and man) during what they termed a “operasi penyakit masyarakat“ (community sickness operation).

North Aceh Regency Police Chief Ahmad Untung Surianata said the waria were secured at five salons spread across Lhoksukon and Pantonlabu districts and included both workers and visitors.

Police Chief Untung said that the 12 had been taken to the local police headquarter where they would receive coaching “until they really become men”.

Untung said the waria had their heads shaved and were given men’s clothes.

“In addition, the officers also nurtured them by way of having them run for some time and telling them to chant loudly until their male voices came out,” Untung said as quoted by state news agency Antara.

The police chief said the operation was to prevent the increase of the LGBT population in the area as it was considered dangerous to Indonesia’s next generation. He said it had also received the blessing of the ulemas (Islamic scholars).

Another source told Antara that the waria had fought and cried while being transported to the police station. He said pornography had been found on some of their phones, which the police would use as evidence. The salons where the women were detained also received officials warnings.

In May, two men in Aceh were each caned 82 times in public after being found guilty of homosexual acts. International and local human rights advocates have strongly denounced Aceh’s official policy of discrimination towards the LGBT community.

In addition to the LGBT minority, authorities in the region often persecute individuals for simply breaking societal norms about appearance and behavior. Sharia police often target members of Aceh’s punk community and, after detaining them, will usually shave their heads and give them “moral guidance” before releasing them.

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