Late last week our partner the Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR), based in Turkey, collaborated on a statement speaking out against the March 23rd repression of the Asia Conference of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Association (ILGA). The event was to be held in Surabaya, Indonesia March 26-28 and was to be attended by more than 150 activists representing 100 organizations from 16 Asian countries.
Here are the details of what happened:
It is claimed that the police cancelled the conference due to pressures and threat of attacks from conservative Muslim groups, though in fact the duty of the police was to deter such attacks. As the inability of a state and its law enforcement units to protect the freedom of expression and association can only reflect institutional discrimination and systematic intimidation against human rights advocates.
On March 26th these groups did indeed attack the Conference participants in the Oval Hotel where they were trapped, having arrived in Surabaya unaware of the last minute cancelation, and unable to leave the city.
We know that the freedom of association is protected by the law in Indonesia, and we also know that though not required by law, the Organizing Committee had received the permit for the conference and that this permit was withdrawn by the police in Surabaya, which allegedly feared violent attacks by radical Islamic groups.
Yet the same police had no fear dining with the attackers in the lobby of the Oval Hotel, while the mob harassed the Conference participants subjecting them to verbal and physical abuse. The mob also sealed the office of GAYa NUSANTARA, the local organization that hosted the conference. This office is still closed and human rights activists in Surabaya are still under the threat of further attacks.
In a country such as Indonesia that prides itself on its diversity, and is supposed to uphold the universal principles of human rights, these acts of violence and intimidation against human rights activists are simply and completely unacceptable. In a democratizing country such as Indonesia, the duty of the state, its legal instruments and its police is to guarantee the constitutional right of association of the people, and not to deprive them of this right by sheltering pressure groups that wrongfully use the name of Islam to further their political agendas.
See the full release and the list of 38 organizations and academic institutions from 16 countries in the Middle East, North Africa, South and South East Asia that have signed on to the press release on the Women for Women’s Human Rights website here.