Friday, October 21, 2016

Double standards: The defining of homosexuality as pornographic in Indonesia

It’s not an illness -- Members of the Indonesian LGBT community display a banner stating that homosexuality is not a mental illness. Rights groups have said recent comments from public figures condemning LGBT people are ill-informed and risk triggering discrimination. (Tempo/-)

Amid efforts to criminalize non-normative sexuality by the Family Love Alliance (AILA), the National Police urged the government to ban gay online dating applications. The police claimed that such dating applications were aggressively used by an alleged pedophile, AR, to sell young boys for sex. They said the dating applications offered platforms to post and circulate alluring pictures to attract male customers.

This call was immediately followed by the Communications and Information Ministry banning three gay applications, namely Grindr, Blued and Boy Ahoy in an initial phase, with dozens others to follow. The ministry’s director, Aidil Chendramata, argued that the applications violated the Pornography Law and the Child Protection Law.

Child trafficking, prostitution and sexual exploitation is not new in the world’s fourth-most populous country. According to UNICEF Indonesia’s fact sheetChildren in Indonesia: Sexual Exploitation ( 2010 ), in 2008 there were nearly 14,000 child victims of sexual exploitation in six tourist destination provinces. Furthermore, an ECPAT International Indonesia Report in 2010 revealed there were nearly 40,000 to 70,000 children victims of sexual exploitation in Indonesia, 21,000 of them involved in prostitution in Java.

Technology and social media unfortunately make prostitution easier among under-aged persons. In 2013, Indonesia was disturbed by the discovery of prostitutes aged 11 years old being sold for sex by pimps barely older than them, or aged 14 to 16. Facebook was used to attract clients, showing that social media also provides potential platforms for crime, including child prostitution. However, it appears that the government becomes obsessed about censorship only when it involves “homosexuality”.

While it is surprising that similar treatment is not applied to “heterosexual” or general social media outfits, the rationale behind this censorship also exposes a number of vague definitions and principles in most Indonesian laws.

According to the 2008 Pornography Law that provoked public debate prior to its enactment, the definition of pornographic content includes “deviant sexual behavior” consisting of “anal sex, lesbianism, homosexuality, necrophilia and beastiality (sex with animals)”. It seems that the policymakers did not fully understand homosexuality, or even sexuality in general, since it differentiated lesbianism from homosexuality.

The argument that gay applications violate the Pornography Law is absurdly confusing, since gay online applications, like most social media, are used by gay and/or male same-sex attracted people to socialize and forge relationships. And again, like most social media, gay social applications are significantly different from pornography.

In a similar vein, equating homosexuality/ non-normative sexuality with pornography could also been seen in the arrest of a male couple in Manado, North Sulawesi, after a photo of them kissing was uploaded on Facebook with the caption, “With my dear love tonight. May our love last forever.” These pictures went viral on social media. Nevertheless, although the photos are no longer available on social media, the couple could be imprisoned if found guilty in a court of law. Communications ministry spokesman Noor Iza announced that his ministry had asked Facebook to delete the picture. Predictably, the couple has been charged under both the Pornography Law and the Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) Law.

Similar with the Grindr case, a double standard is obvious. Displays of affection by heterosexual couples are not difficult to find on social media. However, space  — both physical and online  — has unquestionably been given to heterosexuality, while homosexuality and other non-normative genders and sexualities are considered to be in need of policing to avoid immorality and deviance. Take, for instance, the case of teenage social media sensation Karin “Awkarin” Novilda and Anya Geraldine. In their online videos, the two displayed their intimacies with their boyfriends, which also triggered moral outrage by members of the public, accusing them of spreading immorality among the young generation. However, although the videos possibly violated the Pornography Law and the ITE Law, the case seems to have fizzled after a closed-door meeting was held between Karin and the ministry and the Indonesian Child Protection Commission (KPAI).

Heterosexuals displaying affection in recordings are unlikely to be charged for possessing or releasing pornographic content, while homosexuals, as stated in the law, can be easily convicted for so-called pornography. In addition to the multi-interpretation of the definition of pornography, defining “homosexuality” as pornographic under the law is also ambiguous. What kind of homosexual acts are considered to be pornographic? This ambiguity provides fertile ground to be used at any time to criminalize certain groups, particularly Indonesians of non-normative sexualities.

Furthermore, it is not difficult to find terms like akhlak (moral) and kesusilaan (decency) in most Indonesian laws. Since these terms share abstract qualities and are therefore problematic to assess, prove and enact empirically, they offer flexibilities to be used at any time to police certain groups. Furthermore, what makes Indonesian laws and policies more obscure is the fact that these abstract terms coexist with other words signifying “development” and “progress”. Take the ITE Law as an example. The law stipulates that as part of the world’s information society, every Indonesian should be encouraged to utilize information technology to advance their intellectual lives and cultivate insight and capacity. Nevertheless, it also restricts any person from distributing and/or transmitting electronic information/records with content that go against the so-called norms of decency. While what constitutes norms of  decency is vague, the question here is, what if the norms of decency hinder Indonesians from advancing their intellectual lives, or even from benefitting from the world and knowledge development and progress, and even perpetuating discrimination against certain groups?

Abstract terms provide terrain for those in power to define and utilize them for their own interests. Similarly, along the vague meanings, Indonesian laws could also be easily used at any time to police certain groups deemed to violate the norms of morality and decency. If at present people with non-normative sexualities have constantly been the targets of a war against moral decadence, it is not impossible that this war can be expanded to any other groups, under the malleable definitions of morality, pornography and decency.


The writer, Hendri Yulius who obtained his Master’s in public policy from the National University of Singapore, is the writer of Coming Out and a lecturer of gender and sexuality studies. He is currently pursuing his Masters by Research in Gender and Cultural Studies in The University of Sydney.



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