WASHINGTON - A coalition of nongovernmental organizations that is criticizing Jakarta police for the arrest of 141 gay men held a press conference on Tuesday to say the officers deliberately humiliated the men by taking them while naked to the police station, photographing them, then distributing the nude pictures on social media where the images went viral on Monday.
Police denied the allegations.
“The victims were stripped naked and transported in public transportation,” said the statement signed by 15 organizations, including the Community Legal Aid Institute, the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform and the LGBT rights group Arus Pelangi. “They were also naked while facing [police] interrogation.”
Jakarta police spokesman Prabowo Argo Yuwono told VOA Indonesia on Monday night that of the 141 clients and staffers arrested at the Atlantis Gym and Sauna on Sunday, 10 were charged with violating Law No.44/2008 on pornography and 124 were released. Police cited evidence that included condoms, CCTV recordings and mattresses. Seven tested positive for marijuana and other drugs.
The sauna allegedly was holding a sex party and charged guests 185,000 Indonesian rupiah (US $14) to attend, Argo Yuwono said.
A trendy neighborhood
According to the website TravelGayAsia, the Atlantis is located in one of Jakarta's trendiest neighborhoods and features a gym, a sauna, a “steam room, whirlpool, dark area, 16 private cabins, Internet room with free WiFi and a rooftop bar.”
The release of photographs from the raid was particularly worrisome, activists said, because the families and friends of the men may not have been aware of their sexual orientation.
While Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, does not have laws criminalizing homosexuality — except in Aceh province — it is often an underground, or very discrete, activity.
Activists have reported a rise in homophobic sentiment over the past 18 months, and the acronym LGBT — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender — has emerged as shorthand for liberal values in an increasingly conservative Islamic nation.
Earlier this month, an Islamic law court in Aceh sentenced two men to 85 lashes for engaging in a homosexual relationship.
On Tuesday, hundreds of people watched as the two men were caned.
The punishment began at 9 a.m. and lasted about 30 minutes. Only 83 lashes were administered as the men were credited with two for time served.
Human rights lawyer Ricky Gunawan, the director of Community Legal Aid Institute (or LBH Masyarakat), told VOA on Monday that “the arrests were inhuman, degraded human dignity and violated the law. The police say that when the raid was conducted, they found most of the suspects naked.
“OK, it might be true, but why didn't the police give them time to dress before taking them to the station? … Even when they were interrogated, questioned, recorded, photographed, most of them were still naked. They were verbally abused by the police,” said Gunawan.
Bystanders to blame?
Police insist they did not take photos of the naked men. Argo Yuwono said bystanders captured the images and spread them on social media. “When we raided them, they're all in nude,” he said, adding people other than police could have taken pictures. And, he pointed out, the police ordered all of the suspects to put their clothes on before being taken to the police station.
“So if there is a presumption that [it's] the police who have deliberately disseminated the photos in social media, it's not true!” he said. “Because there were many other people on the site during the raid. They might take the pictures and disseminate them.”
Lini, an activist with Arus Pelangi who like many Indonesians uses only one name, told VOA Indonesia that the police statement was not entirely true because the Articles 30 and 36 of Law No.44/2008 are vague.
"Both of those articles [have] many interpretations," she said.
Gunawan said the pornography law is often used as a way for authorities to interfere in citizens' private lives.
“The more fundamental issue is the interference with privacy,” he said. “The Pornography Act, for example, does not specifically target homosexuals. Based on that, if there is any heterosexual party, it could also be raided by the police.”
“I think the government took shortcuts by using this act to show that they can uphold religious morality, while targeting minority groups that have no social or political access,” Gunawan said. "The sexual and religious minority will always be their victim."
This report originated on VOA's Indonesia service.