Indonesian police and Sharia (Islamic law) police jointly raided five hair salons owned by transgender women in Aceh province on Saturday. They arrested 12 waria, or trans women, forced them to strip off their shirts, and cut their hair in public. The waria remain detained as of Tuesday morning in Aceh.
Immediately following the raids, North Aceh Police Chief Untung Sangaji addressed a crowd that had gathered. “Our ulama [Muslim scholars] disagree with this disease. [This disease] is spreading,” he said, according to a phone recording posted to YouTube. “It’s inhumane if Untung Sangaji is to tolerate these sissy garbage.” He said he would take action not only against the trans women but also any visitors to their salons, adding that he decided to work with the wilayahtul hisbah (Sharia police) after he received complaints from area Muslim clerics. The Sharia police in Aceh have a well-documented history of targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people.
Aceh is the only one of Indonesia’s 34 provinces that can legally adopt bylaws derived from Sharia. In 2014, Aceh’s parliament passed the Islamic criminal code, which includes discriminatory offenses that are not crimes elsewhere in Indonesia. Consensual sex between two people of the same sex, for example, is punishable in Aceh by up to 100 lashes.
Aceh’s anti-LGBT policies have generated international opprobrium. Last May’s public flogging of two gay men in Aceh – Indonesia’s first public caning for homosexuality – sparked outrage far beyond Indonesia’s borders. In 2016, United Nations experts expressed concerns to Indonesia’s government about the abusive enforcement of Sharia against Aceh’s LGBT people.
This is just the latest incident in which Indonesian police have openly collaborated with Islamists to unlawfully target LGBT-related spaces and people. These raids have targeted everything from lesbian-owned houses to private gay clubs. Last year, more than 300 LGBT people were apprehended in police raids across Indonesia.
The situation in Aceh is foreboding. Indonesia’s parliament is deliberating a new criminal code, the current draft of which would criminalize consensual sex between two unmarried persons, in effect making all same-sex conduct illegal.
The North Aceh police should immediately and unconditionally release the 12 trans women and Indonesia’s National Police Commission should start an investigation into the incident, including the role of Sangaji.