Indonesia’s top Muslim council is pushing to make homosexuality illegal nationwide

A 2008 demonstration in Jakarta against homophobia.
A 2008 demonstration in Jakarta against homophobia.
Image: Reuters/Dadang Tri
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Indonesia’s growing anti-gay sentiment got even more serious yesterday (Feb. 17), when the nation’s top Muslim clerical body called for legislation banning LGBT activities nationwide. The influential Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) wants a “stern prohibition of LGBT activities and other deviant sexual activities, and legislation that categorizes them as crime,” MUI chairman Maruf Amin told the Antara news agency.

The organization acts an interface between the nation’s Islamic community and the secular government, which helps fund it. It also issues edicts—not legally binding and of varying influence—to the nation’s Muslims. Some critics contend MUI has wrongly evolved into a “semi-governmental institution,” with government officials sometimes taking cues from it instead of the law.

The edicts MUI issues range from the seemingly benign to the potentially harmful. It might tell Muslims to stop watching gossip TV shows, for instance, because of indecent content. Or it might inflame bigotry, such as when it branded the Ahmadiyya religious minority heretical, thereby encouraging persecution of the group. (Never mind that Indonesia’s national motto is “Unity in diversity.”)

Last year MUI issued an edict against homosexuality. Now it wants criminal punishment for engaging in “LGBT activities and campaigns.” Homosexual and lesbian acts would be outlawed. So would encouraging, promoting, or financing LGBT activities. Sodomy is also forbidden, the group said. It urged authorities to establish mandatory rehabilitation services for those inclined toward what it considers deviant sexual behavior.

Nearly 90 percent of Indonesia’s 265 million people are Muslim. Until recently the country had been relatively tolerant towards LGBT rights.

Earlier this month, religious hardliners showed their growing influence. They helped persuade government authorities to request the removal of LGBT-themed virtual stickers from the Indonesian-language store of the messaging app Line. The social network quickly complied—Indonesia is one of its largest markets outside Japan.

Now the nation’s information ministry has also asked Facebook and WhatsApp to block LGBT-themed emojis and stickers in Indonesia. It also announced it would block Yahoo-owned Tumblr because of pornographic—and notably LGBT—content. In January Indonesia’s biggest internet service provider, state-owned Telekom Indonesia, blocked Netflix for objectionable content.

The recent spate of anti-gay rhetoric by Indonesia’s public officials prompted Human Rights Watch to write a letter of concern to president Joko Widodo last week, noting that “hateful rhetoric from public officials can also provide social sanction for threats and violence.” It pointed to a number of examples, including Zulkifli Hasan, chairman of the People’s Consultative Assembly, saying that homosexuality “does not fit with our culture, should be banned because it does not fit with the culture of Indonesia.”

Such statements might bring down politicians elsewhere. But in Indonesia, many supporters voice their agreement, as evidenced by Twitter comments using the hashtag #TolakLGBT, and in line with survey results asking about sentiments toward gays.

Tolak means “against.”