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Trans women stalked by vigilantes and detained by Sharia police in Indonesia

Trans women stalked by vigilantes and detained by Sharia police in Indonesia

A person who is completely covered holds a cane up and is preparing to hit another person dressed in all white on a stage in front of hundreds of onlookers

A group of trans women attending a birthday party were targeted by vigilantes in Indonesia.

The women were attending the birthday celebrations in the Aceh province of Indonesia on Saturday (16 December).

Described as a group of ‘militant Islamist vigilantes’ by Human Rights Watch (HRW), the group reported the women to police in the region’s capital Banda Aceh.

The women were reported to the Sharia (Islamic) Law Police. Aceh is the only region in Indonesia that is legally allowed to rule with Sharia Law after it negotiated a ‘Special Status’ agreement with the national government in 1999.

Police detained the women for 24 hours but before releasing them, they were told off for having ‘bad morals’.

Being trans or engaging in same-sex relations is not illegal in Indonesia. But under Aceh’s Sharia Law both are illegal.

Sharia Law also allows for the snooping and vigilante behavior exhibited which led to the women being detained.

The women’s detention forms part of a pattern of anti-LGBTI sentiment in Aceh.

In May two men in the early twenties had their apartment raided by vigilantes who also filmed them allegedly in the middle of a homosexual sex act. The two men were later convicted and sentenced to 85 lashes in the capital’s public square.

Sharia police arrested two women in 2015 because they were allegedly lesbians, but they were later released without charge. Earlier that year nine trans women were arrested for cross-dressing in Aceh, which police said violated Sharia Law.

What is Indonesia doing about it?

In 2016, United Nations experts wrote to the Indonesian government expressing concerns about the abusive enforcement of Sharia against LGBT people in Aceh.

While Indonesia has yet to respond to this, in September it informed the UN Human Rights Council that it would ‘take further steps to ensure a safe and enabling environment for all human rights defenders’, including LGBT activists. But it has yet to act on its promise.

HRW said that despite Indonesian leaders’ frequent touting of the country’s diversity and pluralism, many of Indonesia’s minorities remain vulnerable.

‘Last weekend’s detention of friends attending a birthday party is just the latest example of this,’ wrote HRW’s researcher in the LGBT Rights Program, Kyle Knight.

‘The government should condemn this vigilantism, but will Jakarta speak out?’