Last month in Surabaya, Indonesia, participants were gathered at a hotel for the Fourth International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) Asia Conference. The meeting didn’t go as planned. According to the ILGA, the conference had to be cancelled because participants were being threatened by some fundamentalist and hard-line Islamic groups. A report from their website says that “The leaders of the fundamentalist groups entered [the hotel] and sat around a table in front of the entrance of the hotel next to the elevators, talking to one another, while other demonstrators grew into a threatening crowd in front of windows of the entrance. According to local sources, the men were from the Unity Front of the Community of Islam (FPUI), an ad-hoc coalition of 7 conservative and hard-line Islamic groups including the Indonesian Council of Ulemas (MUI), Indonesia’s top Muslim clerical body, the Islamic Defender Front (FPI), a local extremist group that is known for violent tactics, and the Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), a local chapter of a worldwide network by the same name […]. At the same time moderate and progressive Muslim groups criticized the actions of the above mentioned groups.”
There was a standoff at the hotel where, and according to the ILGA and the host organization GAYa Nunsantara, police did little to protect the participants. (As one blogger wrote about the ordeal: “It was clear to us. We were not safe, we didn’t feel safe, and we didn’t know whether we could ever trust the police.”) They eventually assured the participants of their safety and helped mediate an agreement between the fundamentalist groups, the conference organizers, and the hotel management.
After the singing of the agreement in front of media, the fundamentalists “refused to go and denied the pact,” says to Maria Mustika, head of the advocacy section at GAYa, and also a participant during the workshop I am currently facilitating. The fundamentalist groups eventually left the hotel after they were handed the guest list.
Upon returning to GAYa’s office, Maria says that the ordeal did not end there. “They [members of the fundamentalist groups] also locked our office with a big cable and lock, so we cannot get in. They put the words, ‘Gay Lesbian Moral Terrorist’ on our office wall. This is horrible, I was there to see them scream using religion as their righteous [justification] to do violence, they were using little children to put those dirty words and tell them to stone the wall and demand our neighbours to stay there and do the same when they meet us.” To be fair, I tried to find websites from the above-mentioned fundamentalist groups, and I found little information. I did however come across a number of websites and Facebook pages with comments on the incident, and many such comments are not worth reprinting here.
From a human rights standpoint, their freedom of expression was effectively squashed by the fundamentalist groups – and this right is enshrined in Indonesian law. As human rights defenders, their right to express themselves and to promote and protect LGBT rights was also compromised, and their security was not fully assured by the police (acting as an agent of the State). You would think that there would be more support in a country where the Yogyakarta Principles were agreed upon in 2006. Shame on the police for failing to protect, shame on the hotel (the Mercure, part of the Accor group) for not standing up for the participants and for handing the guest list to the fundamentalist groups, and shame on those groups for protesting without listening, intimidating without understanding, and desecrating the front of an office with an absurd and cruel designation instead of walking through its doors in peace and having at least a willingness to dialogue with those they so strongly revile.