Gay crackdown boosts HIV: HRW

A crackdown against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups in Indonesia is leading to a rise in HIV infections and causing a public health crisis, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

A study says attacks, raids and an attitude of hostility by the Indonesian authorities and Islamist militant groups has disrupted public health efforts to tackle HIV.

The result was that HIV rates among men who had sex with men had “increased five-fold since 2007 from 5 per cent to 25 per cent”. 

The rights group stated that the majority of new HIV infections in Indonesia occurred through heterosexual transmission but one-third of new infections happened occurred within the LGBT community.

The 70-page report said Indonesian police had raided “saunas, nightclubs, hotel rooms, hair salons and private homes on suspicion that LGBT people were inside”. Three hundred people were reportedly detained last year because of their presumed sexual orientation or gender identity, including suspected lesbians and waria (transgender women) community events. 

Carrying condoms was used as evidence of homosexuality which made people less likely to carry them, adding to the HIV epidemic.

“LGBT people’s access to condoms, to counselling and to HIV education is disappearing. It’s becoming more and more difficult for HIV education groups to access these communities. The situation is alarming and rates of HIV infections are increasing in Indonesia,” said Andreas Harsono, one of the Human Rights Watch report authors. 

It said three raids last year closed HIV outreach hot spots, where outreach workers would meet and counsel gay men and provide condoms and voluntary health tests.

“It is devastating that these clubs have closed. They were the only places where we could find the community,” an HIV health worker in Jakarta told the NGO. 

The Indonesian authorities, including politicians and officials, became increasingly homophobic in early 2016, creating a “moral panic” which affected wider Indonesian society, according to HRW.

Polling in 2016 said 26 per cent of those interviewed said they did not like LGBT people, the largest percentage for any group and by 2017 that number was even higher, HRW said. 

“In February 2016 the minister of defence even said the LGBT movement was more dangerous than nuclear war,” said Harsono. 

“It began with a moral panic: that homosexuality was contagious, that it might affect children, that it is more dangerous than nuclear war,” he added. 


Victims of the crackdown in Jakarta. Picture credit: YouTube