The moral panic over LGBT rights in Indonesia has risen to alarming levels in recent weeks, with numerous instances of mass anti-LGBT demonstrations led by government officials promising to take more discriminatory action against the villainized minority group. In such a climate, an instance of outright mob violence against LGBT individuals seemed inevitable.
That is what allegedly happened in the Jakarta satellite city of Bekasi last week, where two transgender women filed a report with the police saying they had been the victims of a brutal assault by around 50 young men on the night of Monday, November 19.
The women, who have chosen to remain anonymous out of fear for their safety, have received assistance from a number of activist organizations but so far the police have not announced whether they will be investigating the case.
According to Ryan Korbarri — an activist from the LGBT rights group Arus Pelangi who spoke to KBR about the case — the gang of men beat and stripped the women over the course of a horrific hour-long ordeal during which the assailants berated them for violating God’s will.
Ryan said the assault was carried out in the middle of the night at a place where the victims were hanging out with some friends. The assailants allegedly removed their clothes and cut their hair short. One of them was beaten with an iron rod.
The two suffered extensive injuries all over their bodies and are still recovering at a Bekasi hospital.
According to Ryan, there was strong evidence that could be used to catch the perpetrators, specifically CCTV footage at banks and restaurants near the scene of the crime. However, according to the latest reports from KBR and CNN Indonesia, both the Bekasi Police and the National Police have thus far chosen not to comment on the alleged crime or whether any attempt at an investigation would be done.
Fortunately, several rights activist groups have stepped in to do what the government should be — namely helping to protect the women and assist them in their pursuit of justice. Lawyers from LBH Masyarakat (People’s Legal Aid Foundation) reported the incident to the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM), which noted that Indonesian police did not successfully resolve a single case involving the use of violence against transgender victims in 2017.
Komnas HAM member Beka Ulung Hapsara said the police needed to be more sensitive towards the persecution faced by the LGBT community if they were going to fulfill their purpose of protecting all Indonesian citizens equally.
Beka also said that, according to Komnas HAM’s data, the number of reports they’ve seen of violence or discrimination against LGBT individuals is on the rise, though the number was probably far higher than even they knew about since many victims were too scared to come forward.
In addition to Komnas HAM and LGBT Masyarakat, the Witness and Victim Protection Agency (LPSK) also said they were ready to provide protection to the two victims should they ask for it.
The National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) has said that discriminatory regional regulations were the main cause of the rampant violence against the LGBT community, citing more than 400 such regulations across the country, many of which encouraged residents and officials in those area to feel safe in discriminating against minority groups.
Indeed, the ordeal reported to the police by the two transwomen in Bekasi strongly echoes actions in an incident from January in which Sharia Police in Aceh (the only region of Indonesia with special autonomy to enact explicitly sharia-based law) publicly detained a group of 12 transgender women, shaved their heads and gave them men’s clothing in an extra-legal act that was criticized by human rights defenders in Indonesia and around the world.
In another incident from earlier this month, three transwomen in the province of Lampung were hosed down using a fire truck by local authorities in order to cleanse their “impurities”.
Since January, acts of state-sponsored discrimination against LGBT individuals have increased throughout the country, with politicians in some highly conservative regions such as West Sumatra promising harsh new regulations to curb LGBT behavior, which some speculate is little more than a political ploy to gain favor among the electorate by scapegoating the embattled minority group ahead of next year’s elections.