An advanced threat of terrorism was added to the Australian government's travel advice for Jakarta this week. Yet the most widely discussed topic in local media was not terrorism, or even controversial proposed changes to anti-terrorism and anti-corruption laws. Instead, focus was laid on the perceived moral threat of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
A moral panic over gender and sexuality has been brewing for several weeks, commonly traced to a minister's call in January for LGBT groups and individuals to be banned from university campuses. Even after the minister retracted his statement days later, public debate on the issue continued to escalate. As social media users have rallied behind a #DaruratLGBT ('LGBT crisis') hashtag, authorities appear to be engaged in an unofficial competition over who can make the most outrageous statement concerning the LGBT community.
The pick of the blunders this week include the Defence Minister, who labeled the LGBT rights movement as a proxy war with tactics more dangerous than nuclear warfare, the leading psychiatric association returning to a 1970s classification of LGBT sexual behaviour as a mental illness that can be cured, and the mayor of satellite city Tangerang suggesting that a lack of nutrition from consuming too much milk formula and instant noodles could be producing greater numbers of LGBT children.
LGBT rights advocates have responded to the spiraling public debate by asking for protection under the constitution, and calling on President Jokowi to fulfil his promise to protect human rights for all Indonesians. So far, the President has declined to weigh in on the sensitive debate.
In fact, the strongest statement made by the President this week was perhaps to postpone — but not cancel — discussions on revising the law on the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK). Supported by a coalition of six parties, Jokowi's PDI-P party is pushing controversial revisions to the KPK law that critics say will significantly undermine the popular anti-graft body's authority. The proposed revisions include introducing a council to oversee the KPK's activities, allowing the KPK to terminate corruption investigations, and weakening its authority to appoint investigators and conduct wiretapping. Once again, Jokowi appears to be caught between the will of his party and the people. Rather than take a stand on the issue, it seems he has opted to sidestep it for the time being.
It's interesting to note that Indonesia's 'LGBT Crisis' has emerged at a time when the public might otherwise be engaged in debate over these important revisions to the KPK law. Last year, when the KPK's integrity was similarly threatened in a stand-off with police, local media was gripped by another 'crisis' that seemingly escalated from nowhere: the so-called 'drug crisis' which led to the execution of 14 drug convicts, including two Australians. As with the 'drug crisis', the 'LGBT crisis' has been mainly fanned by incendiary comments made by public figures in the media, rather than caused by actual events. Unlike with the 'drug crisis', Jokowi has so far refused to engage.
Another important debate that is not getting its fair share of media attention of late is that of proposed revisions to Indonesia's anti-terrorism law. In the wake of last month's attack that left eight dead and dozens more injured in central Jakarta, urgent discussions are needed on how Indonesia proposes to fight the threat of further attacks. Authorities have consistently argued that revisions are needed to the anti-terrorism law to more effectively prevent attacks, despite the extreme nature of current laws, which already allow for a 'shoot-on-sight' policy. Meanwhile, proposed revisions to the law have been rejected by civil society as a threat to fundamental human rights. Any discussion about a possible trade-off of human rights for security measures is one all citizens should be involved in.
DFAT's smartraveller website this week maintained a warning for Australians to 'exercise a high degree of caution' when traveling to Indonesia, adding concerns about terrorist attacks that are said to be in advanced stages of planning. Reports of ISIS supporters recruiting fighters through mosques in Jakarta have further raised concerns about future attacks in Indonesia.
Last month's attack was claimed by ISIS loyalists with evidence of connections to a Southeast Asia-wide network. It demonstrated a broadening of terrorism targets from police (the major focus in recent years) to Western targets as well as the general public, which in Indonesia is majority-Muslim. Police say they were caught off-guard by the mid-January attack after foiling bigger plans for violence during the Christmas and New Year's period. Australia's updated travel advice indicates that similar large-scale plans are now being monitored.
Photo by Getty/Barcroft Media.