In Indonesia, Islamic hardliners detain transwomen

Screengrabs from a video showing members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) forcing four transwomen in Cianjur, Indonesia to wash off their make-up.
Screengrabs from a video showing members of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) forcing four transwomen in Cianjur, Indonesia to wash off their make-up.

In West Java, Indonesia, a group of Islamic hardliners patrolling the town of Cianjur harassed and physically restrained four transgender women last Friday. All the while, police officers accompanying the group on their patrol simply looked on. A video of this scene has since circulated online.

Last week, men were patrolling an area of Cianjur called Cilaku, on the lookout for alcohol and for food stalls open during the day during the holy month of Ramadan, according to the local police chief. Some of the men in the patrol belonged to the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), a self-appointed morality brigade known for its violent tactics, including attacks on bars and on people selling food during Ramadan.

At one point, as the video shows, they started harassing two transwomen. They then forced their way into a building, shouting all the while, and brought out two more transwomen. All four were lined up against a wall outside, and surrounded by the large group of men, who continued to shout at them. One of the men preached loudly and forced them to repeat a promise that they would stop dressing in a feminine way.

The four transwomen were forced to crouch on the ground, surrounded by the group of men. Screengrab from the video, with faces blurred by France 24. 


Coconuts Jakarta, an online news site, translated one of the men’s orders to the transwomen: “Go ahead and sing, but wear macho outfits so that nobody will be attracted.”

At the end of the video, a man splashes water from a bottle onto the transwomens’ faces, and orders them to wash away their make-up.

A man pours water from a bottle onto the transwomen's faces. Screengrab from the video. 


At several points in the video, a uniformed police officer can be seen standing in the group of men, watching the scene.

The uniformed police officer. Screen grab from the video. 


The Cianjur police chief confirmed to local media that police officers were present during this incident, but said they hadn’t done anything wrong; he claimed their presence had ensured the situation remained “safe and conducive”.

While there are no laws against being transgender in Indonesia, transgender people are regularly targets of violence, harassment and discrimination. In May, a video circulated showing police officers publicly shaming transwomen in Aceh province.

>>READ ON THE OBSERVERS:  Indonesian police publicly shame transgender women in Aceh

“This is unfortunately quite common”

Naila Rizqi Zakiah is a public defender with LBH Masyarakat, a Jakarta-based NGO that works with marginalised communities, including the LGBT community.

We are in contact with friends in the area where this video was filmed, who have assured us that the transwomen have moved to a safe place. We are now trying to get into contact with the victims to talk to them about helping them press charges. In any case, we intend to file a complaint.

This sort of incident is unfortunately quite common, and is happening in many areas all over Indonesia. What you see in this video is an example of the repressive attitude of both government and society toward LGBT people in Indonesia.

We carried out research on cases of harassment and discrimination of LGBT people throughout 2017. We counted that last year there were 973 such cases that were reported in the media. We found that 26 percent of victims were targeted because they were gay or lesbian, while nearly 74 percent were targeted because they were transgender.

We also noted who the perpetrators were: in 55 percent of cases, they were from law enforcement or government agencies, while in 45 percent of cases they were from civil society. 

“Even progressive parties aren’t speaking out against abuses faced by the LGBT community”

It’s a very alarming situation. The Islamic Defenders Front has become a sort of moral police, targeting the LGBT community as well as all sorts of ethnic and religious minorities. Unfortunately, the police tend to agree and support these groups who want to punish what they call the “immoral community”. [Editor’s Note: a recent survey showed that 87 percent of Indonesians considered the LGBT community “a threat to private or public life”.]

Several events have taken place in the last few years that have worsened the climate for LGBT people in Indonesia. In 2016, LGBT groups were barred from universities. In 2017, a conservative group called the Family Love Alliance brought a petition to the Constitutional Court to try to criminalise homosexuality. The court rejected it, but now our country’s parliament is considering a ban. 

There are so many politicians and civil society leaders who talk about wanting to criminalise homosexuality. I think cases like the one we saw in the video will keep happening if they keep stoking anti-LGBT sentiment. And at the moment, with regional elections coming up in June, even progressive parties aren’t speaking out against abuses faced by the LGBT community.

Article by Gaelle Faure.