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30 Mar 2010

Indonesia's Ministry of Religious Affairs considers criminal charges against conference organisers

While local conference organisers may face criminal charges, human rights advocates in Indonesia are simultaneously urging the police to arrest members of several Islamic groups who raided the hotel where participants were staying.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs (Kementerian Agama) told the Jawa Pos newspaper on Sunday it is coordinating with law enforcement agencies to charge the Indonesian organisers of the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) Asia conference which was scheduled to be held in Surabaya last weekend.

News of the conference and protest dominated local newspaper headlines for almost a week. Above: Gaya Nusantara, which operates a community centre and office with a staff strength of 15, had its premises locked and sealed by protesters last Friday afternoon. (Images from local media via aibai.com)

The Minister of Religious Affairs, Suryadharma Ali, was quoted as saying that activities such as the conference are against religious and moral order, and an offense to the religious community in Indonesia. He added that homosexual behaviour contradicts the teachings of various religions, including Islam. He added that he is certain other religions in Indonesia do not condone homosexual behaviour.

It is believed that the organisers of the conference – none have been specifically named by the authorities although three members of the ILGA Asia board are Indonesian: Poedjiati Tan of Gaya Nusantara, King Oey of Arus Pelangi and Kamilia of Institut Pelangi Perempuan, Indonesia – may be charged under the country’s Blasphemy Law.

The Blasphemy Law, which is currently under review at the Constitutional Court, prohibits alternative interpretations of the six officially recognised religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism; others are officially banned.

If convicted, one faces a jail term of up to five years. 

According to the Jakarta Globe, in 2008, the government used the law to formally ban Ahmadiyah, a minority Islamic sect, because members held that its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was the last prophet of Islam, a claim that contradicts mainstream Muslim beliefs.

The Constitutional Court is currently reviewing the law following a demand for a review filed by human rights groups who argue that the law may be abused and misused to intimidate minority religions and allowed minority religious groups to be persecuted.

The conference was organised by Surabaya-based Gaya Nusantara, the country’s longest running gay advocacy group which was founded in 1987 and Jakarta-based Arus Pelangi which was formed in January 2006.

Gaya Nusantara, which operates a community centre and office with a staff strength of 15, had its premises locked and sealed by protesters last Friday afternoon. Staff members Fridae spoke to said they are not aware if there’s a ‘correct’ procedure to have the office unsealed or if they can have the lock cut should they wish to re-enter their office. As of Tuesday morning, the office is still sealed, a member of the staff told Fridae.

Last Friday, members of several hardline Islamic groups forced their way into a Surabaya hotel thought to be hosting the conference (in fact, organisers had already publicly announced the cancellation of the conference) and ordered participants who were staying in the hotel to leave the country by Sunday.

Conference organisers told participants last Friday – when the hotel was under siege by between 50 to 150 protesters according to press reports – that the police were unable or unwilling to guarantee the safety of the participants whether they choose to leave the hotel the same evening or if they were to stay the night before leaving the next morning. This was after protesters had threatened that a larger number of protesters will descend on the hotel the next morning. An estimated 60 to 80 participants from more than a dozen countries were in Surabaya for the conference.

Leading gay rights activist and founder of Gaya Nusantara Dede Oetomo was quoted as saying in The Jakarta Post on Monday that he was not able to give a statement sooner as the participants’ and organizers’ safety was under threat: “The police should have been able to ensure the citizens’ rights to convene.”

“It turned out that they could not even ensure the safety and security of the participants and organisers.”

Human rights advocates have accused the police and several religious groups of breaking the law by shutting down the conference and banning conference organisers and participants from speaking to the media.

Women’s activist Vivi Widyawati, who is the spokeswoman of the Mahardhika women’s organisation, said the attackers broke the law and should be punished.

“The move violates democratic principles and humiliates Indonesia in the international forum,” she told The Jakarta Post. She also said the incident was evidence of the failure of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, lawmakers and the political elite to protect minorities in the country.

“We demand the police arrest and imprison the attackers. I doubt, however, that the police have the balls to do so,” Vivi said.

The head of Surabaya’s Alliance of Independent Journalists, Donny Maulana, criticised the Islamic groups for “banning” the congress’ participants from speaking out, saying that such a “ban” would lead to unbalanced reporting.

“A move to ban a news source from speaking to the media is illegal,” he said Sunday, adding that the 1999 Press Law stipulates that preventing journalists from seeking and publishing information was a crime. Those found guilty of doing so face up to two years imprisonment and up to Rp 500 million (US$55,000) in fines, according to the Post.

Indonesia » Jawa Timur

Reader's Comments

1. 2010-03-30 21:43  
Didn't the same thing happen to Mohammed and Jesus?

I mean, both of them tried to do something outside of the then norm because they knew better (or at least they thought they knew better), and a millennia later, their teachings have become so great that they rose up from being a minority to the great majority. The great majority that has forgotten their humble beginnings and has soon started stomping on the minority (the burning times of the witches, etc).

Shucks. I'd really hate to wait for another one thousand years to see gays being the new majority.
2. 2010-03-31 02:20  
Buddhism never condems homosexuals but adulterous.
3. 2010-03-31 03:57  
Religion must Always be welcomed and respected in any/every State, and a rich, diverse base of religions and faith is good for a nation's soul. People should always be free to worship God - or not to - depending on their personal, individual faith (or none).

However, all governments should be Secular - ruling any country or society 'by the rule of God' is a recipe for disaster, and ripe for human abuse. I'm not saying to follow France's slightly odd purely-secular rules for the seperation of Church and State, but a common-sense respect for allowing people to live their lives without following 'your' rules of God and religion is what people and places - such as Indonesia - would, I think, be better off with.

After all, the citizen's right to be part of a citizen-led and focused society, rather than one led by prophets or a 'majority religion' (ie whoever has the Most followers, be it God, Yahweh, Mohammed or Superman, gets to boss around the others who have a 'smaller' God, god, or none) is the fairest and most humane, and history has shown time and time again that societies that follow religious tenets and rules tend to be the harshest on their societies.

And, as a last point, it generally seems that those countries and societies who have the 'strongest' faith and religious rules that govern their peoples are also the countries with the worst human rights abuses; the least personal, civil liberties; the harshest police and judicial systems, and so on. In short, the more God a place has, the harsher the rules and the worse the lives, it seems.

But maybe I'm just too Western in what I say/think, and the rights that people expect/demand over here. Who can say... but I'm just glad that The Church has no power whatsoever over my life here, unlike the lives of Indonesians, there...
4. 2010-03-31 04:07  
I fail to see how they can claim to be 'secular' while state sanctioning religious view points, kinda like the USA isn't it.. looks like as consimers we will have to start encouraging the boycotting of Indonesian goods and tourism too.
5. 2010-03-31 04:57  
Solution:
Don't spend your money into this bloody homophobic place.

Just makes me really Indonesia-phobic now!!!
6. 2010-03-31 04:58  
Solution:
Don't spend your money into this bloody homophobic place.

Just makes me really Indonesia-phobic now!!!
7. 2010-03-31 07:02  
Absolutely disgusting. Religion role is to promote equality, happiness and a sense of value. All this negativity, protest and condemnation is simply a 3rd class mentality. I will absolutely not step foot on Indonesian Soil as they are totally non tolerant hence do not deserve my money in their economy.

I hope those people can humbly remember the minority contributions and not stumbled upon them simply because of their sexual choice. Disgusted.
8. 2010-03-31 08:43  
What a joke. *shrugs*
Did they forget about Jemaah Islamiyah?
9. 2010-03-31 17:05  
Dear fellow readers,

To Good Venus: I hope that you don't become indonesian-phobic. Not all Indonesians are religious extremist and bigots. I'm a gay one, and non-religious.

Remember that not all Australians are bogans, not all Americans are red-necks, not all English people are pompous. Phobia is not solved by another phobia.

Consider that when you try to generalise people of a certain group. I believe you wouldn't want to discriminate gay Indonesians, nor straight and open-minded Indonesians. When you go against people on the basis of their nationality, you risk discriminating against these people.

Cheers.
10. 2010-03-31 18:53  
It's so sad when any religion, Islam in this case, is used by homophobes to promote bigotry and intolerance. I see this as a chance for the Indonesian government to issue a statement to uphold the rights of a group that has been discriminated against, in this case the LGBT communities of Indonesia and its supporters.

I've been to Jakarta, Jogja and Bali several times and the feeling I get when I'm Indonesia is that it's far more liberal and liberated than either Malaysia or Singapore. My impression of Indonesians is that they are a very passionate people for whom civil liberty is utmost. These religious fundies who shut down the conference are in the minority -- their understanding of sexuality, religion and politics is narrow and misled. And they shouldn't be allowed to get away with something like this.

My support goes to all Indonesian brothers and sisters. Take this opportunity to stand against stupidity, ignorance and bigotry. I stand with you in solidarity.
Comment edited on 2010-03-31 19:27:43
11. 2010-03-31 18:58  
What ashamed statement by Idiot Minister... a Joker Corruptor. For more than thousand years from now they will still live in 'uneducated' and pretend to be religious life, have they ask themselves is ISLAMIC taught them to be a Corruptor? :)
12. 2010-03-31 19:18  
god fearing always think gay is sinful blah blah, so their action show their almighty is now handicapped probably retarded too, so cannot make decision, and almighty's slaves to work for him/her.

ahem...after all, not so almighty.

cant blame them, they r just slave of almighty
13. 2010-03-31 19:44  
I guess for some (minorities, not all dont jump) its ok to fly a plane into a building but holding a conference on sexulaity is worth arresting

Mmmm.....
14. 2010-03-31 21:11  
Indonesia is a country with so many people with many cultural backgrounds, fortunately I was born there and the place of the conference is my hometown. It's hard to be LGBT in indonesia, In our capital city, which we always think that it's the most comfortable zone for LGBT, we still have so many mistreatment as a LGBT. So, you all can imagine to the second biggest city in indonesia. Surabaya is viewed more potential for LGBT since the city is widely known for the welcoming area and it is considered as a "safe" in java, but you know, the society is much more traditional than jakarta or denpasar. The society is hardly can accept some new changes :) so, its tough and not a wise decision to hold such a congress in surabaya. Its a wiser decision had it had been held in denpasar. :)
15. 2010-03-31 23:30  
Another stupid statement from the indo govt...
16. 2010-03-31 23:40  
what a sad thing to happen in our country, Indonesia!
Unfortunately, it is a sad fact that there are too many bigots & stupids who hide their cowardice hatred acts behind religions!
Karma will do its justice & Lets always believe & always be strong & proud of who we are.
Thankful enough we already have Q-Film festivals going strong, Cheerz to all of the people who actively promote awareness to the public & open people's eyes. Always be strong & never b afraid of prejudism!
XOXO

(PS: Please dont b afraid to visit Indonesia, there are SO many cities & beautiful places to visit. Many Excellent nature sceneries, excellent cities, food culinaries, & great hospitable people who will greet & open their arm for U! dont judge Indonesia because of some bigot's action. There will always be Hatred ALL OVER THE WORLD ! There is still much we need to do)
Peace & Luv for everyone
:-)
17. 2010-03-31 23:40  
what a sad thing to happen in our country, Indonesia!
Unfortunately, it is a sad fact that there are too many bigots & stupids who hide their cowardice hatred acts behind religions!
Karma will do its justice & Lets always believe & always be strong & proud of who we are.
Thankful enough we already have Q-Film festivals going strong, Cheerz to all of the people who actively promote awareness to the public & open people's eyes. Always be strong & never b afraid of prejudism!
XOXO

(PS: Please dont b afraid to visit Indonesia, there are SO many cities & beautiful places to visit. Many Excellent nature sceneries, excellent cities, food culinaries, & great hospitable people who will greet & open their arm for U! dont judge Indonesia because of some bigot's action. There will always be Hatred ALL OVER THE WORLD ! There is still much we need to do)
Peace & Luv for everyone
:-)
18. 2010-03-31 23:48  
I was laughing so loud, when I read those muslims wrote " Gay and lesbian = terrorist moral HAHAHAHAHAHA.

look who's being terrorist? is there any gay and lesbians before?? hahahahah its their own muslims blood. hahahahahahaha.. see, they blame others for their own stupidity.

moron.
"maling teriak maling"
19. 2010-03-31 23:52  
Did someone from the organisers offended some honcho up there? Why suddenly so messy and all that?

Well some of you said that the natives are very friendly and warm... but those idiots who are the bigoted ones are unfortunately the ones holding the power in the country.

20. 2010-03-31 23:59  
Okay, here's my chance and I hope aput (or someone else can) can contribute. (I want to move on to Malaysia law and its relationship to Malaysia's Syariah laws eventually.)

I am of the opinion that Syariah law - if that's what is being used in this incident here - is itself an unIslamic concept. This would be due to one oft-quoted verse from the Quran, "There is no compulsion in religion". (I admit I don't know the context that the verse was written in.)

States do have their legitimate coercive powers, but if those coercive powers are derived from a religious source and particularly if they are in defiance of developments in modern jurusprudence, wouldn't that constitute "compulsion"?

And if so, does it not contravene the Islamic command that I quoted?
Comment edited on 2010-04-01 00:13:01
21. 2010-04-01 00:17  
Charging the conference organisers under a blasphemy law that is currently being challenged in the Constitutional Court (for being a breach of human rights and covenants that Indonesia has signed), with the court due to decide in mid-April, sounds like a desperate attempt by those that want theocracy, to whip up public support for the law by using it (wholly inappropriately) against a misunderstood minority, so they can say "see, this law is needed! If we do away with this law we'll be overrun by homosexuals!".
22. 2010-04-01 01:15  
The actions of this government by giving in to the protesters simply goes to show that the conservative religious right wing is getting stronger due to the government's lack of enforcing their form of secular governance. The fact that they even have a post called "Menteri Agama" goes to show that it is no longer a secular government to begin with.

If anything, the government and the media must speak up and enforce the right to free speech for all groups in regards to the nation's laws. For the police to not be able to guarantee the safety of the conference's participants even, shows that there is just not enough backbone in the Indonesian government to counter the religious radicals from taking matters into their own hands.
23. 2010-04-01 01:23  
Teroris Moral??? Ok, now who is being a terrorist?
Oh great, now I'd confuse, Indonesia, what are you in now? Democracy? Liberalism? Or Secular? Waw...
Pancasila rules are stop here, where is government? Where is public Law? Not religion rules?
***Curses on my brain : Dead end***

Lets not just blame the country. Blame the people that can not thinking about Gay and Lesbian outside of their religion. They never thinking about human rights. Limited people. Minority.
24. 2010-04-01 02:05  
@22 Aput; good point about the post; I was also wondering why a secular government has a Ministry of Religion.

He's an interesting guy. Apart from bizarrely trying to claim organising a conference on the human rights of gay people is "blasphemous" under a law that it obviously doesn't fit into, presumably for political gain, he's also reported to have recently opposed a fatwa against smoking, on the grounds that smoking is NOT injurious to your health! :-

"Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali added his critism and opposition to this smoking fatwa when he said that Islam’s original stance on tobacco was makruh but not haram.

But when is the line crossed? At which point does makruh becomes haram? Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali provides the answer. He said: “Unless it poses a direct threat to human health, such as by causing heart disease, then smoking should not be haram.” "

(http://www.abigmessage.com/smoking-fatwa-minister-to-muhammadiyah-act-more-wisely.html ; http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2010/03/17/minister-calls-antismoking-edict-%E2%80%98unwise%E2%80%99.html)...

So I suppose little things like science, facts and truth are not going to get in the way when it comes to gay people either.
Comment edited on 2010-04-01 02:17:41
25. 2010-04-01 07:00  
Religion sucks.

I could go on a huge, epic rant about my disdain for organized religion, but those two words at the top really sum it all up quite nicely.
26. 2010-04-01 08:58  
Religion is an expression of material realities and economic injustice. Thus, problems in religion are ultimately problems in society. Religion is not the disease, but merely a symptom. It is used by oppressors to make people feel better about the distress they experience due to being poor and exploited.
"Religion is the opium of the masses", Karl Marx.

The Indonesian government's lackadaisical stand for fundamental human rights, some degree of freedom of speech as well, is frightening, and so is the ever lasting influence of ultra conservative clerics/radicals (Bashir, for one), the untamed Army and the complacent Police.
This being said, Indonesia being the only true democracy in south-east Asia there is hope that these dangerous -however in
minority- religious quacks will be given the boot in the near future, together with the Minister of Religious Affairs who should never had been involved in the first place.
JPS
27. 2010-04-01 09:51  
I think Ricky Martin is hot
28. 2010-04-01 10:11  
Aput, I'm glad that you are here. The last time we had a conversation, it was left at, "Even if we [in Malaysia] could show that the laws criminalizing gay sex were unconstitutional, we still have [Malaysia's] Syariah laws to deal with; gay Muslims will not be protected."

Yes, I was stumped by that too. But only for a while - and I hope that all this can help our Muslim LGBT brothers and sisters anywhere they may be. (You need to know me: I NEVER give up until I have truly lost.)

The point I raised in my post is a purely political one; it's one that people - preferably Muslims in a country like Malaysia - could use to appeal to the Muslim population on the wrongness of this all.

But it is not a legal argument.

So here is what I think a legal argument might look like, but I will need your input because I naturally don't know all that much about Malaysia.

Like all other constitutions, the Malaysian one guarantees "equality for all under the law". Based solely on this, it would form the justification for the repeal of any law that criminalizes gay sex (S 376 of the Penal code?).

Then what about the Syariah law/s that criminalize gay sex?

Then we come to that other most important constitutional clause: constitutional supremacy which deems the Constitution - and not Syariah law on the surface reading of it - to be the supreme law of the land, and that any law in contravention of the Constitution is null and void.

This would mean that the Syariah laws that criminalize gay sex are not only subject to the constitutional guarantee of equality for all under the law, but are null and void as well: they are illegal.

Then we come to that annoying matter of Islam being explicitly mentioned in the Constitution as the state religion.

Exactly what does that empower the Malaytsian government to do, especially if they cannot at the same time contravene other constitutional requirements?

BTW, which are the two states that have the death penalty for those prosecuted for gay sex related 'offences'? Can I guess that Kelantan is one of them? And Trengganu possibly the other? (I am also helping out with the abolishment of the death penalty campaign in Singapore.)
29. 2010-04-01 18:29  
#26, I must disagree with your statement. In my opinion, religion is absolutely the disease. It's almost always a delusional belief system, predicated on the twin pillars of fear and guilt. (Delusion: a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence, which, for my money, is the textbook definition of religious beliefs.)

Religion actively inhibits medical progress, social progress, political progress, equality, freedom of thought, freedom of expression, the list goes on and on. Religion is directly responsible for some of the most atrocious acts mankind has visited upon his fellow human beings. Religion inspires people to believe that the time they spend on this earth is of little consequence or value since they have "an eternity" in the "afterlife."

Religion is not the manifestation of any underlying problem (apart from our own hubris and near-pathological fear of death); religion IS the disease. And it's malignant because its proponents, who believe this fiction -- for which there is not one SCRAP of evidence -- impose their judgment, their violence, and/or their will on those of us who really just want to live our own lives.

For those with rational, open minds, and a fair bit of time on your hands, I would invite you to visit www.godisimaginary.com, or better, www.whywontgodhealamputees.com. While primarily a treatise on the fiction of the Christian religion (my former one), it touches on all of the phony religions (which is all of them) and is laid out in a very logical, straightforward, and non-insulting manner. Pretty eye-opening stuff.
30. 2010-04-02 01:02  
The conference should have been held in bali instead of surabaya.
Surabaya is in the island of java, and that island is where they breed and train new terrorists.
There are more than 30 provinces in indonesia with different degree of gay-tolerance to choose from.
We have the province of Aceh where the local government can prosecute GLBT members.
On the contrary,we have the province of bali which can be regarded as one of the most gay-tolerant provinces in indonesia (or maybe even the world), and we have provinces with gay-tolerance between these two.
Anyway, these conservative muslim protesters against this conference are just minority, majority of indonesians muslims are moderate and tolerant.
However, the conservatives are very loud and barbaric. Therefore, they atrract the most attention, just like the conservatives christian groups in the states.

31. 2010-04-02 02:01  
She also said the incident was evidence of the failure of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, lawmakers and the political elite to protect minorities in the country.

“We demand the police arrest and imprison the attackers. I doubt, however, that the police have the balls to do so,” Vivi said.

wow... brave woman. Asia, especially Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries with Islamic population, still have a long way to go in this matter
32. 2010-04-02 12:30  
I've never seen anything bring out such enmity and hate as religion, but I should probably say monotheistic religions.

Not to be glib, but the emotions this article stirs up in me remind me of the saying by Chairman Mao "Religion is poison"
33. 2010-04-02 15:30  
chadm252 and sonofsteel:

I appreciate your views on religion, but I think that we can sharpen our focus - and help our own cause/s better - if we recognize this for what it is. It's all about the fascism that has been taking over much of the undemocratic and anti-democratic world, many of which are in Asia and Africa.

(Please note that I use "fascism" in a strictly academic sense; I'm not lashing out in anger.)

This is not about religion per se.

This is far more about the fascist elements within many of the communities we are talking about; it can also be a race-based fascism such as we have had in Singapore that manifested in exactly the same problems that we are discussing here. (Thanks to the gay rights debates, it is being rolled back in Singapore.)

In the end, it is these fascists that we have to join forces to fight.

And that means that the liberal forces wherever we are in the world have to lend support to each other so that those liberals in these fascist regimes can be better equipped for that fight.

I have said this before regarding liberal support, especially Western liberals, for fellow liberals in these fascist regimes: do not succumb to the guilt trip they pull on you when they say that "If you don't understand that we are merely being sensitive to our people's culture when we commit these atrocities against them, then you must be racist for not understanding our culture but calling it backward instead."

Believe me, even Asian liberals HATE this thing that the fascists among us are calling "our culture".

It's fascism more than it is religion.





Comment #34 was deleted by its author on 2010-04-02 20:31
35. 2010-04-02 20:25  
While I'm very glad that this horrific incident and the bigotted response of the Indonesian Ministry of Religion gets widely published, I am more than concerned that you list the names of the victims - people who might be charged at a criminal court!!!!! They have enough trouble as it is, receiving death threats by FPI and went thus into hiding. Any good journalist should respect that and not perpetuate the style of some Indonesian media. By giving out their names on a public space like this you endanger them further. Please take their names off this site!!!
Comment edited on 2010-04-02 20:57:13
36. 2010-04-05 09:29  
"It is believed that the organisers of the conference – none have been specifically named by the authorities although three members of the ILGA Asia board are Indonesian: Poedjiati Tan of Gaya Nusantara, King Oey of Arus Pelangi and Kamilia of Institut Pelangi Perempuan, Indonesia – may be charged under the country’s Blasphemy Law."

All 3 of them should RUN, not walk to the nearest US or British or French Consulate and apply for VISAS and POLITICAL ASYLUM before the formal charges are filed.
37. 2010-04-05 10:51  
It's pretty sad that these days whenever something bad happens you almost always find Islam at the root at it somewhere. I swear these people are their own worst enemies and are contributing to their own religion's downfall and destruction.

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