Australia and other Asian leaders may have missed a golden opportunity to confront Indonesia on the increasing persecution of LGBTI people there.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull held the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit over the weekend in Sydney. The summit was for ASEAN members including; Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Cambodia, Brunei Darussalam, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.
Much of the mainstream media attention was focused on the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and the Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s growing abuse of power.
But LGBTI advocates were also hopeful Turnbull would directly address the LGBT crackdown on the LGBT community with Indonesian President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo.
Advocates have been concerned about the pending criminalization of homosexuality in Indonesia, the targeting of trans women and ongoing raids at the homes, businesses and social gatherings of suspected gays and lesbians.
Australia and Indonesia are close neighbors and share a pragmatic, if at times, tense relationship.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) described Indonesia as one ‘Australia’s most important bilateral relationships’. The two countries regularly hold high-level meetings, an important trade partnership and the island of Bali is an extremely popular holiday option for Australian tourists.
The ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, represents the interests of LGBTI people in the region. Its regional coordinator, Ryan Silverio, said the increasing persecution of LGBTI people was ‘a symptom of an aggressive rise of Islamic extremism in the country’.
‘We are worried that the anti-LGBT rhetoric by government officials and other key figures in society, not to mention leaders of educational institutions, that religious extremism is entering the mainstream of Indonesia’s political, social and cultural domains,’ Silverio told Gay Star News (GSN).
‘Should Indonesia pass a law criminalizing LGBT people, we see it as tantamount to bowing down to the will of extremist groups whose values and actions run counter to democratic values Indonesia ought to uphold.’
We respectfully call on our leaders attending the @ASEANinAus to address the rise of violent religious extremism in #Indonesia Actions to ensure peace and security in #ASEAN must take into account #LGBTI people. #ASEANinAus #EyesonIndnesia @ASEANSOGIE @AusAmbASEAN @dfat pic.twitter.com/oQWYXx4UYj
— Planet Ally (@PlanetAllyApp) March 16, 2018
Silverio questioned whether Australia’s millions of dollars of investment to stop Islamic extremism in the region provided ‘direct benefits to LGBT persons who are already caught within the fangs of Islamic extremism.’
— Ryan Silverio🌈 (@queeringryan) March 15, 2018
The Australian Government would not reveal what was said in the closed door meeting with Jokowi but the Joint Statement of the ASEAN-Australia Special Summit released after the event, made no mention of LGBTI rights.
What Australia has said to Indonesia
But a spokesperson for DFAT told GSN it had raised concerns directly with Indonesian authorities.
‘We regularly raise with the Indonesian Government the importance of protecting the human rights of all Indonesians, including LGBTI people,’ the spokesperson said.
‘In January this year, Australia and a number of other diplomatic missions made representations to Indonesian authorities in response to proposals to criminalise same-sex sexual relations as part of revisions to Indonesia’s criminal code.
‘Australia continues to monitor the situation of the LGBTI community in Indonesia closely.’