Okezone.com, an Indonesian news website, reported the arrests took place at a sauna in Central Jakarta that is popular with gay men. The website posted pictures of dozens of men who were trying to conceal their identities after their arrest.
Human Rights Watch in a press release noted authorities on Saturday had released most of those who were arrested. The press release indicates four men and a woman who work at the sauna remain in custody and face charges of violating the country’s anti-pornography law.
“That law prohibits such acts as sex parties, the use of pornography, and ‘deviant sexual acts,’ which is defined to include sex with corpses, sex with animals, oral sex, anal sex, lesbian sex and male homosexual sex,” says Human Rights Watch.
Activist: Police ‘engaged in an anti-LGBT witch hunt’
The arrests at the Jakarta sauna took place against the backdrop of an ongoing LGBT rights crackdown in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.
Human Rights Watch says police in West Java province on Sept. 2 forcibly evicted 12 women “they suspected to be lesbians” from their village after they entered their home. The NGO also notes police in the city of Medan in North Sumatra province on June 8 arrested five “suspected lesbians,” released a video of the raid and shared their names with local reporters.
Jakarta police on May 21 arrested 141 men who were taking part in a “gay sex party” at a sauna. Two men in the city of Banda Aceh, which is the capital of the semi-autonomous Aceh province, two days later received 82 lashes in front of hundreds of people after a sharia court convicted them of having sex.
Human Rights Watch notes police in the city of Surabaya in East Java province on April 30 arrested 14 gay and bisexual men at a private party and forced them to undergo HIV tests.
President Joko Widodo in an interview with BBC Indonesia last October said he opposes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
A commission in the Indonesian House of Representatives in March 2016 urged the country’s Ministry of Communications and Information to consider a bill that sought to block websites promoting so-called LGBT propaganda. The Constitutional Court of Indonesia a few months later heard testimony in a lawsuit that seeks to criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country.
Indonesian authorities in February 2016 shut down an Islamic school for transgender people in the city of Yogyakarta.
The board of directors of Nahdlatul Ulama — which is the world’s largest Muslim organization with more than 40 million members — in the same month urged the Indonesian government to take “immediate measures to stop all propaganda against LGBT normalization and deviant activities” and “ban parties campaigning for LGBT” rights. Lembaya Kesehatan Nahdlatul Ulama, which is part of Nahdlatul Ulama, received a $2.6 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development in order to bolster its ability to detect tuberculosis cases and treat them.
The grant began in 2012 and is expected to end this year.
“It is ironic that instead of Islamist vigilantes and thugs, now the police is engaged in an anti-LGBT witch hunt,” Dédé Oetomo, an LGBT rights advocate from Surabaya, told the Washington Blade on Monday.
The Blade has reached out to the State Department for comment.