Metro Weekly

Indonesian police arrest 141 men at alleged gay sauna party

Raid is the latest in an escalation of anti-gay actions taken by police in the past 18 months

Indonesian police officers – Photo: CEphoto, Uwe Aranas, via Wikimedia.

Indonesian police have arrested 141 men in a weekend raid on a gay sauna, just one day before two men are to be caned in one of the country’s provinces for engaging in same-sex relations.

Authorities have alleged they broke up what was a sex party, which had been promoted as “The Wild One” at Atlantis Gym & Sauna in Jakarta, according to The Guardian. A police spokesman confirmed the number of men arrested, including the owner and several performers. That spokesman said the men who were arrested could be charged under Indonesia’s anti-pornography law. 

Human rights activists say they are alarmed at what seems to be an increase in government-backed raids, using the anti-pornography statute to target LGBTQ websites and gatherings.  They also express concern over reports of anti-gay discrimination and attacks in the past months. Last month, police reportedly targeted a gathering of gay men in a hotel in Surabaya after being tipped off by neighbors. Fourteen men were arrested and forced to submit to HIV tests. 

While homosexuality is not technically illegal in the Muslim-majority nation, the semi-autonomous province of Aceh does enforce Sharia law. Recently, two men were arrested on suspicion of homosexuality and convicted of sodomy. The two were sentenced to 85 lashes with a cane, which will be carried out in public on Tuesday — the first time the province’s courts have sentenced people to flogging for homosexuality.

Human Rights Watch has previously called on Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to intervene on the two men’s behalf, and has criticized the president for giving lip service to equal rights while failing to stop the anti-gay harassment.

“Indonesian police are again violating the basic rights of LGBT people by invading their privacy,” Phelim Kine, the deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement following the Surabaya raid.

“So long as the government permits police raids on private gatherings under a discriminatory law, it will fail to curb anti-LGBT harassment and intimidation. President Jokowi should make good on his commitments to protect privacy rights and put an end to state-sanctioned discrimination.”

Jessica Stern, the executive director of OutRight Action International, highlighted research by OutRight finding that regional regulations are departing from national laws and are being influenced by fundamentalist interpretations of Islam, leading to the criminalization of LGBTQ people.

“What is happening in Indonesia is dangerous and scary,” Stern said in a statement. “Officials are using their own personal biases on morality to oppress different groups and especially LGBTIQ people. In the past, the LGBTIQ community has experienced more tolerance in Indonesian society, but particularly over the past 18 months, crackdowns have increased and the situation has become much worse…LGBTIQ Indonesians are equal citizens and must no be singled out and oppressed simply for who they love or who they are.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com