Indonesian authorities are fueling an HIV epidemic through complicity in discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. The government’s failure to halt arbitrary and unlawful raids by police and militant Islamists on private LGBT gatherings has effectively derailed public health outreach efforts to vulnerable populations.
The 70-page report, “‘Scared in Public and Now No Privacy’: Human Rights and Public Health Impacts of Indonesia’s Anti-LGBT Moral Panic,” documents how hateful rhetoric has translated into unlawful action by Indonesian authorities – sometimes in collaboration with militant Islamist groups – against people presumed to be LGBT. Based on in-depth interviews with victims and witnesses, health workers, and activists, this report updates a Human Rights Watch August 2016 report that documented the sharp rise in anti-LGBT attacks and rhetoric in Indonesia that began that year. It examines major incidents between November 2016 and June 2018, and the far-reaching impact of this anti-LGBT “moral panic” on the lives of sexual and gender minorities and the serious consequences for public health in the country.
“The Indonesian government’s failure to address anti-LGBT moral panic is having dire consequences for public health,” said Kyle Knight, LGBT rights researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “The Indonesian government should recognize that its role in abuses against LGBT people is seriously compromising the country’s response to HIV.”
Beginning in early 2016, politicians, government officials, and state offices issued anti-LGBT statements – calling for everything from criminalization to “cures” for homosexuality, to censorship of information related to LGBT individuals and positive reporting on their activities.
The government’s response to the country’s HIV epidemic in recent decades has helped slow the number of new infections. However, widespread stigma and discrimination against populations at risk of HIV, as well as people living with HIV, has discouraged some HIV-vulnerable populations from accessing prevention and treatment services. As a result, HIV rates among men who have sex with men (MSM) have increased five-fold since 2007 from 5 percent to 25 percent. And while the majority of new HIV infections in Indonesia occur through heterosexual transmission, one-third of new infections occur in MSM.
The anti-LGBT moral panic and unlawful police raids have made public health outreach to the most at-risk populations far more difficult making wider spread of the virus more likely, Human Rights Watch said.
Throughout 2017, Indonesian police raided saunas, night clubs, hotel rooms, hair salons, and private homes on suspicion that LGBT people were inside. In total, police apprehended at least 300 people in 2017 alone because of their presumed sexual orientation and gender identity – a spike from previous years and the highest such number ever recorded in Indonesia. Read more via HRW