Are Indonesian police prosecuting a religious taboo or reinforcing the law?

By October 5, 2020 Learning, Newsroom, Regional

Organizers of the event raid on Sep 2020

Gunn Wibisono, Social Psychologist / Founder of Jaringan Rakyat Bhinneka, Indonesia

On Friday 29 August, the police raided a condo hotel room in Jakarta, Indonesia and detained dozens of men attending a gay party. On the following Saturday, several reports were made by friends and family, stating that their loved one was missing and their mobile phone couldn’t be reached. The communities tried to find the victims but gained no success. On Tuesday, rumors surfaced that police would hold a press release about the gay party. Clearly, proper protocol was not followed by the police as no legal representatives or family members had been in touch with the victims. It also seemed that the police carefully planned to shame the individuals who attended the gay party. The press release mentioned that nine people were accused of organizing the party. 

Organizers of the event raid on Sep 2020

Yusri Yunus, Jakarta police spokesperson, stated that homosexuality is taboo in Indonesia. But he further more added in a statement that the act of homosexuality is not a criminal offense. Since homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia, this raised the question whether the police tried to prosecute a religious taboo or reinforce the law. 

Detainees of T1 Sauna after the raid on Oct 2017

Taboos are mostly based on cultural or religious values. Taboos based on cultural values are subjective as Indonesia has 633 ethnic groups, and thus has diverse cultural values. Something considered taboo in Javanese cultureIndonesia’s dominant culture—is not necessarily taboo in other ethnic groups. Giving something with the left hand might be taboo for Javanese, but not in some other areas. Also, public display of affection is taboo in Sumatra and Java, but accepted in Manado or Papua. And on any account, those taboos are not punishable by law. In many ethnicities in Indonesia, homosexuality is not considered taboo either as written in several ancient scriptures, such as the Serat Centhini which tells the story of a same-sex relationship, and La Galigo which explains the five genders acknowledged by the Bugis society. 

Other taboos are related to religious values. Although Indonesia’s government recognizes only six official religions, we do have hundreds of indigenous religions. Similar to cultural taboos, religious taboos are also subjectivethey depend on the individual religion and beliefs. Within Islam itself, the leading religion in Indonesia has different denominations and each denomination has many mazhab or school of teachings. Each of mazhab has a different perspective on homosexuality as taboo

Facade of T1 Sauna after the raid on Oct 2017

When the police executes raids, subjectively accuses and prosecutes individuals for violating the social norms or taboo, they invoke fear and shame. They seem to hope that society will be angry towards the marginalized group and that the media will jump on the bandwagon in humiliating and stigmatizing the victims. What is their ulterior motive? 

Taboos are not criminal offences, thus violating taboos cannot and should not be prosecuted by the police. As stated in the law, the police’s core duty is to reinforce the law. In recent years however, the Indonesian police have developed a pattern of prosecution against violations of taboos, specifically focusing on the LGBT community which has become a victim of this inappropriate policable behavior. 

Facade of Atlantis Sauna after the raid on May 2017

As LGBTQI, we have to remind ourselves that homosexuality was perfectly well accepted in many of our indigenous cultures and even though, it’s being made into a taboo by a changing social landscape, we should hold true to our identity. 

We’re here and we will always be here.

Organizers of the event raid on Sep 2020

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