Indonesia cracks down on gays ... And fuels its HIV epidemic

Up until mid May, Fajar Prabowo supervised mobile HIV testing units that fanned out to Jakarta’s gay saunas and bars in an effort to reach hundreds of closeted homosexuals who feared being spotted walking into clinics.

Often for 10-hour stretches, he would counsel, test, and, for the 17 per cent who were HIV positive, console upwards of 50 men. But after police raided and detained more than 140 men at a gay sauna in a red light district in the city’s north, just days after one of those same mobile test units had wrapped up its work there, Prabowo shelved the programme, worried his NGO would be caught up in the dragnet.

“People are scared,” says Prabowo, programme officer at Yayasan Suwitno, which operates and helps fund the mobile units and clinics with money from groups such as the Global Fund to Fight Aids, tuberculosis and malaria.

“It’s very hard to get people to come to the clinic. Now it’s even harder to reach them,” he said.

His nation’s crackdown on its homosexual and transgendered citizens comes amid an explosion of HIV infections among gay men in Asia. In Indonesia, outreach and awareness campaigns have been shelved, limiting the ability of activists to reach gay men. 

Unless official attitudes towards gay and transgendered citizens ease, activists say they will struggle to keep abreast of an epidemic that has already infected up to a third of young gay men in the region’s biggest cities, including Jakarta and Bangkok. Read more via This Week in Asia