Jakarta Post - March 29, 2010
Indra Harsaputra , Surabaya -- Activists have accused the police and several religious groups of breaking the law by shutting down a planned congress on sexual orientation in Surabaya, East Java, and by banning conference participants from speaking to the media.
As of Sunday — the deadline given by extremist Islamic groups to foreign participants from 16 countries arriving in the city to attend the 4th regional Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Intersex Association (ILGA) conference to leave the country — none of the participants have spoken to the press.
Leading gay rights activist Dede Oetomo apologized to journalists for not being able to give a statement, saying the participants’ and organizers’ safety was under threat.
“The police should have been able to ensure the citizens’ rights to convene,” the founder of the Gaya Nusantara organization told The Jakarta Post via telephone on Sunday.
“It turned out that they could not even ensure the safety and security of the participants and organizers.” Organizers of the conference, scheduled to run from March 26-28, canceled the event on Thursday, citing security reasons.
Militant members from several hardline Islamic groups on Friday forced their way into a Surabaya hotel thought to be hosting the congress and ordered participants to leave the country by Sunday.
The secretary-general of the East Java branch of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), Mohammad Chaeruddin, said the foreigners were told to leave because
Surabaya Muslims allegedly believed the conference violated religious principles.
A participant of the planned congress, Gayatri, who is also a founder and activist of the Coalition of Indonesian Women and the Voice of Concerned Mothers, said she would report the attack to international rights watchdogs Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Women’s activist Vivi Widyawati, who is the spokeswoman of the Mahardhika women’s organization, said the attackers broke the law and should be punished. “The move violates democratic principles and humiliates Indonesia in the international forum,” she told the Post.
She also said the incident was evidence of the failure of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, lawmakers and the political elite to protect minorities in the country. “We demand the police arrest and imprison the attackers. I doubt, however, that the police have the balls to do so,” Vivi said.
The raid on the hotel turned violent for Maria, a women’s activist in Surabaya invited by congress organizers along with several other activists. When she was seen talking to journalists, she was pushed by members of the Islamic groups and almost fell to the ground.
The hardline groups had demanded participants not speak to the press. “We weren’t trying to ignite tempers, we were simply trying to interview a participant,” a television station cameraman told South Surabaya Police chief Adj.Sr. Comr. Bahagia Dachi.
He spoke to the police chief after journalists tried to interview a participant seen leaving the hotel, but prevented from doing so by militant Islamic groups.
In a crackdown on press freedom and clearly pandering to the hardline groups’ illegal call to muzzle participants, Bahagia told journalists to leave the hotel and not attempt to seek statements from participants or organizers.
“It’s better that you go home. If you need an interview, call me,” he said.
The head of Surabaya’s Alliance of Independent Journalists, Donny Maulana, criticized the Islamic groups for “banning” the congress’ participants from speaking out, saying that such a “ban” would lead to unbalanced reporting.
“A move to ban a news source from speaking to the media is illegal,” he said Sunday, adding that the 1999 Press Law stipulates that preventing journalists from seeking and publishing information was a crime. Those found guilty of doing so face up to two years imprisonment and up to Rp 500 million in fines.