A coalition of human rights groups is pushing for a judicial review of the new Indonesian Pornography Law, which was passed in November 2008. The coalition is being brought together by Yayasan Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Indonesia, the Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation—a well-known NGO that advocates for democracy, human rights and justice and has a broad-based constituency. It includes national groups Arus Pelangi and Ardhanary Institute, representing the LGBT community.

The new law allows for traditional expressions of culture but continues to define pornography very broadly as “as any picture, sketch, illustration, photo, writing, sound, audio, motion picture, animation, cartoon, lyrics, body movements, or other communication messages through various media communication and/or performance in public, which includes indecency or sexual exploitation and is against social morality.” The law also prohibits the creation, dissemination or broadcasting of pornography containing “deviant sexual intercourse,” which is defined to incorporate lesbian and gay sex.

The Pornography Law’s passage marked a major success for Islamist fundamentalists, who have been using Wahhabi (ultra conservative) interpretations of Syariah law to enforce a variety of other restrictive practices. These include the imposition of dress codes and nighttime curfews on women, the policing of women’s sexuality and intimate partner relationships, attempts to undermine sexual and reproductive health education for young people, inciting police violence against gender non-conforming people, and targeting lesbians and gay men for harassment and violence. The cumulative impact of these developments has been that activists have faced virulent homophobia and transphobia, and that less politicized members of the LGBT community have been driven back into the closet.

Indonesian press reports indicate that members of parliament who voted for the Law can now claim they support Islamic values. But those who pushed for passage of the Indonesia Pornography Law have other agendas beyond preventing exploitation of the vulnerable; they now have a tool to demonize and penalize people who choose to express their sexuality differently.

While recognizing that the pornography industry does harm people, particularly those who are already vulnerable, LGBT rights activists along with women’s rights activists and other human rights activists are concerned that Indonesia’s Pornography Law has chilling implications for Indonesian society, and its LGBT members in particular.

For instance:

1. Indonesia’s Pornography Law can be used against anyone who does not conform to conservative Muslim interpretations of “culturally acceptable” dress codes, behavior in public and private, as well as content and form of artistic expression, content of print/broadcast/electronic materials and educational literature.

2. Not having an anti-sodomy law in Indonesia has not stopped state officials, primarily civil police and religious police from using public order laws and anti-prostitution laws to harass and arrest LGBT people for being at the “wrong place at the wrong time.” The Pornography Law, which lists homosexuality as deviance now provides another reason for singling out people who do not conform to notions of “true Indonesian values.”

3. LGBT activists and LGBT groups, sexual health educators, and artists could be perceived as promoting pornographic lifestyles. They may be viewed as producing, distributing, or promoting pornographic materials through their literature, websites, film festivals, community events or Pride events.

4. NGOs could lose their licenses. Support services and community outreach could be negatively affected; outreach populations could be scared off. Funding and fundraising activities could diminish.

5. Certain advocacy activities on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression could come under scrutiny and censure for “porno action” –the umbrella term for culturally offensive activities. These could be “legitimately” interrupted. LGBT groups could be forced by the authorities to turn in their records including email correspondence and other confidential and sensitive information to determine if they have contravened the Law. This kind of harassment is disruptive to the work of advocacy organizations and also has an intimidating effect.

6. While the law stipulates that community intervention cannot involve violence, there is potential for over-zealous interpretation of the law by religious and cultural vigilantes who may exercise their right to carry out moral “education” or re-education of non-normative people/groups, which may involve repeated reporting to authorities, intimidation, harassment, perhaps blackmail and/or violence. Since the law says that people who report to the authorities are offered legal protection, there could be poor accountability procedures.

7. Violating conditions of the Pornography law results in harsh penalties. For instance, violating Article 4 can result in one to 12 years in prison or a fine of 500 million to six billion rupiah—$42,500 to $510,000. This is having a chilling effect on LGBT people, including those engaged in legitimate advocacy work.

Where heteronormativity becomes the premise for rights associated with dignity, self-esteem, pluralism and non-discrimination, LGBT people not only face rights violations but also risk lack of redress and relief.

Grace Poore