Gay and transgender people in the ultra-conservative Aceh province of Indonesia are living in a state of constant fear following the province-wide enactment or a law to punish same-sex relations with 100 lashes of the cane.
“We are more afraid, of course," a 31-year-old transgender person from the LGBT group Violet Grey told Reuters. "Being like this is our fate, not a choice," she said asking what it is that makes some people “so righteous that they can condemn other people as sinful?"
The Violet Grey organization based in the provincial capital Banda Aceh has even burned all its pamphlets, group records and other papers, worried that the sharia police would raid them at any moment.
It has warned members to keep a lower profile and for gay and transgender people to avoid going out as couples in public.
Aceh parliament Sept 27 passed a bylaw which criminalizes a range of acts – including same-sex sexual activity and sex outside marriage. Those found guilty could face caning, imprisonment or fines imposed by Islamic courts.
Amnesty International said the law is an enormous step backwards for human rights as “caning is a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment” prohibited under international law.
The Reuters report said the province's gay community estimated at about 1,000 people has become increasingly marginalized since Aceh enacted the law. Aceh officials say the law will not be enforced until the end of 2015 to give local people a time to prepare for it.
This has not helped as the LGBT community even before the law was a target of regular harassment from sharia police and residents.
Aceh authorities defend the law, saying it does not violate human rights. According to them, gay people can live together but just not have sex. "It is forbidden because in the sharia context the act is vile," Syahrizal Abbas, head of Aceh's sharia department, told Reuters.
Elsewhere in Indonesia, same-sex relations is not a crime under Indonesia's national criminal code but remains taboo in many parts of the country. Generally, urban areas are more tolerant of gay people.
Aceh is the only province to enforce Islamic sharia law since 2001, when it gained some powers of autonomy after protracted seceding-related problems.
Gay rights groups fear other conservative provinces such as South Sumatra and East Java could follow Aceh's lead if Indonesia's new president Joko Widodo does not overturn the law that his administration is reviewing to see if it violates human rights.
Although Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim country it has never been an Islamic state but prejudices against the LGBT community are largely formed by Islam, whose followers make up about 90 percent of its 250 million people.