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Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist country, is home to a liberal LGBT scene and has launched marketing campaigns aimed at attracting gay tourists. The Tourism Authority of Thailand has a gothaibefree.com website aimed at LGBT travellers

It says the Thai people are tolerant and respectful of the LGBT community and also offers discounts for hotels and spas.

In Indonesia that is far from the approach. A parliamentary commission drawing up changes to the Dutch colonial-era criminal code has been consulting with the public and taking the opinions of religious scholars, legal experts, and rights groups.

 

A group of Indonesian transvestites spend their time at a cafe in Jakarta
A group of Indonesian transvestites spend their time at a cafe in Jakarta, Indonesia, February 8, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

 

Its deliberations come against a backdrop of rising anti-LGBT rhetoric, including from senior officials, and a string of vigilante and police raids on places where gay people have gathered.

 

“MENTAL ILLNESS”

A recent survey found that nearly 90 percent of Indonesians who understand the term ‘LGBT’ feel threatened by the community, while the Indonesian Psychiatric Association and the Health Ministry state in internal documents seen by Reuters that being LGBT is a mental illness.

Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu has branded homosexuality a national security threat on the basis that it “is a kind of modern warfare that undermines the country’s sovereignty”.

Last month, 12 transgender women in Aceh were detained by police and forced to cut their hair and dress in ‘masculine’ clothes, sparking outrage from rights groups.

Most political parties support the changes being proposed, particularly those that outlaw gay sex.

“If someone dares to disagree, does that person want to risk not being elected again?” said Arsul Sani, a lawmaker from the United Development Party, an Islamic party, who has been involved in drafting revisions to the law.

 

 

 

Most Indonesians adhere to a moderate form of Islam under an officially secular system, but there has been a rise of hardline, politicized Islam in recent years, and it has moved from the fringe to the centre of politics.

Islamist groups led mass rallies last year to unseat the then governor of Jakarta, a Christian. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama had said political rivals were deceiving people by using a verse in the Koran to say Muslims should not be led by a non-Muslim. He apologised for the comments, but was later jailed for two years for blasphemy.

Critics say the creeping Islamisation of politics is fostering moral conservatism as Indonesia heads into crucial provincial polls in June and a presidential election in 2019.

“The hateful rhetoric against (the LGBT) community that is being cultivated seemingly for cynical political purposes will only deepen their suffering and create unnecessary divisions,” U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said when visiting Indonesia this week. He said he raised the issue with President Joko Widodo.

 

SOME DISSENTING VOICES

There are some dissenting voices as the legislative revisions are nudged forward, among them parliament deputy speaker Fahri Hamzah, who has been lobbying lawmakers and the government to apply the brakes.

“I’m warning them on the dangers of criminalisation of our privacy too much. It endangers our future, our freedom and also our economy,” he told Reuters.

“You don’t regulate the bedroom of the people.”

He accused Widodo of being “weak on the issue” and, instead of speaking up, relying on the lobbying of liberal media and non-governmental organisations.

 

 

Top officials, including the president, have said that while LGBT people should not face discrimination, Indonesia’s cultural and religious norms do not accept the LGBT movement.

A presidential spokesman declined to comment, but a government representative involved in the deliberations said efforts were underway to protect privacy

“The state cannot enter the private realm. It can only get involved if what people do disturbs public order,” said Enny Nurbaningsih of the law and human rights ministry.

Fahd, who is originally from East Java, says he has lost faith in the protection promised to the nation’s people in the Indonesian constitution. “I want the Indonesian government to see that we have our voice. It’s like I’m saying to them, ‘I don’t need you: there are other countries that accept me for who I am.'”

 

(Additional reporting by Ed Davies, Tom Allard, and Andrew Mangelsdorf and Amy Sawitta Lefevre in BANGKOK and Anna Mehler Paperny in TORONTO.Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Martin Howell)

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