A gay couple could be punished with 80 lashes after vigilantes filmed them having sex in Indonesia, amid international alarm over growing restrictions on the country’s LGBT community.
They would be the first men to be caned for same-sex relations under a new code of Sharia law implemented in Muslim-majority Aceh province.
The lead prosecutor, Gulmaini, claimed the two defendants aged 20 and 23 had “confessed” to being in a gay relationship during a court hearing on Wednesday.
They were arrested after local vigilantes in the city of Banda Aceh suspected them of being a couple and set out to catch them having sex.
Mobile phone footage circulated online and used as evidence for the prosecution shows one of the men naked and visibly distressed as he calls for help on his mobile phone.
The second man is seen being repeatedly pushed by another man who is preventing the couple from leaving the room as he begs: “Please brother, please stop…my parents want to talk to you, they can pick me up.”
Human Rights Watch called for the couple to be released immediately, saying the punishment sought by prosecutors constitutes torture under international law.
“These men had their privacy invaded in a frightening and humiliating manner and now face public torture for the 'crime' of their alleged sexual orientation,” said Phelim Kine, the group’s deputy Asia division director.
“The arrest and detention of these two men underscores the abuse imbedded in Aceh’s discriminatory, anti-LGBT ordinances.”
A panel of three Sharia judges will announce its verdict next week, with Gulmani claiming the defendants turned down the court’s offer of a defence lawyer.
Aceh’s Shariah code allows up to 100 lashes for “morality” offences including homosexual sex, adultery, gambling, drinking alcohol, women who wear tight clothes and men who skip Friday prayers.
It is the only province in Indonesia to practice Sharia law brought in two years ago as a concession made by the national government in 2006 to end a war with separatists.
Reforms allow members of the public as well as the special Sharia police to publicly identify and detain anyone suspected of violating its rules, which specifically outlaw liwath (sodomy) and musahabah (lesbian sex).
They have seen several LGBT suspects detained, including two teenage girls arrested in 2015 on suspicion of being lesbians after embracing in public, as the state parliament has gradually adopted hardline laws to criminalise women who do not wear headscarves, drinking alcohol, gambling, and extramarital sex.
Local government officials have been accused of stoking homophobia with statements including a deputy mayor’s claim that the LGBT community is a “threat” and must be “trained to return to a normal life”.
Reports of homophobic attacks in Indonesia have increased since the start of 2016, raising alarm at the UN with police raids, crackdowns on LGBT activists and political rhetoric, despite public denouncements of discrimination by President Joko Widodo.
Government institutions including the National Broadcasting Commission and the National Child Protection Commission have also issued censorship directives banning information and broadcasts that portrayed the lives of LGBT people as “normal”, similar to Russia’s “gay propaganda law”.
The country’s reputation for practicing a moderate form of Islam has been damaged in the past year due to attacks on religious minorities, a surge in persecution and a polarising election campaign for Jakarta governor that highlighted the growing strength of fundamentalist groups.
Basuki “Ahok” Purnama, the outgoing governor of Jakarta and a member of the city’s Christian minority, was sentenced to two years prison for blaspheming the Quran this week.
The case was prompted by an incorrectly subtitled video of comments on his opponents’ use of the holy book in political campaigning, which went viral on social media.
There are growing fears that Islamists including the extremist Islamic Defenders Front are in the ascendancy in a country home to sizeable communities of Hindus, Christians, Buddhists and other minorities.
As well as home-grown groups, Indonesia is among the Asian nations targeted for expansion by Isis, which launched an attack in Jakarta in January 2016.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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