Indonesian police have arrested 58 people, including eight foreigners, at a Jakarta sauna popular with gay men, pointing to a further erosion of tolerance in the largely Islamic nation.
Police said they raided the T1 Sauna, gym and bar on Friday because of complaints about prostitution. Five of those detained had not been released on Sunday.
Among those initially detained were four Chinese nationals, a Singaporean, a Thai, one Malaysian and a Dutchman, although none of the foreigners would be charged, Jakarta Police spokesman Argo Yuwono said.
Although homosexuality is legal in Indonesia, with the exception of the shariah-run province of Aceh, there has been a steady rise in homophobic attacks since last year, with observers pointing to a rising tide of Islamism.
“I was there during the police questioning of the detainees, and to some extent they kept returning to religion, saying that all religions ban homosexuality, according to religion homosexuality is sinful, and so forth,” said Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch Indonesia.
“If they raided because they are gay, it is abusive, it is abuse of power,” he added.
The five still in custody have been charged under Indonesia’s ill-defined pornography law. That law can be applied to consensual gay sex and extramarital sex or sending explicit photos in private messages, carrying a sentence of up to 10 years.
“It is simply a bad law,” said Harsono. “It over-criminalises private actions.” He added that people could be charged if they had pornographic material on their mobile phones. “Just imagine if every person in Indonesia had their cell phones checked, how many hundred million people would go to jail?”
The law was recently used to charge the leader of a key Indonesian Islamist organisation, the Islamic Defenders Front, over a “sexting” scandal with a colleague.
The sauna reportedly hosted an HIV testing site for the NGO, Yayasan Pesona, leading to fears that the raid could disrupt HIV-Aids prevention.
In May, 141 men were held in a raid on Jakarta’s Atlantis sauna, on accusations of involvement in a gay prostitution ring in an area of the capital that is also home to many heterosexual “spas”.
Also in May two gay men were publicly caned in Aceh and, last month, around 12 suspected lesbians were driven out of their town in West Java, which set up an “anti-gay task force” in May.
Jakarta’s gay community is feeling increasingly targeted. Picture credit: YouTube