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LGBTQ

Indonesian Prison Officials Believe Inmates Are 'Turning Gay' After Sleeping Next To The Same Sex

If that’s the case, shouldn’t prisons be full of gay people, since overcrowded conditions force inmates to sleep in cramped cells?

by Ikhwan Hastanto; translated by Jade Poa
10 July 2019, 8:07am

Cramped inmates at Tanjung Gusta Prison, Medan, after a 2013 riot. Photo: Roni bintang/Reuters

In 1973, the Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatry Federal Council reported that homosexuality is not a mental disorder. Nearly fifty years after that monumental declaration, some Indonesian officials are still hell-bent on “curing” LGBTQ individuals.

The latest bout of LGBTQ discrimination is ongoing in West Java’s prisons. District office head of Indonesia’s Ministry of Law and Human Rights, Liberti Sitinjak, claims “deviant sexual acts” are becoming more rampant among prisoners in his area. This allegation is based on the discovery of same-sex relationships in detention centers.

Sitinjak believes over capacity prisons are to blame for the rampant homosexuality he’s observed. Inmates sleeping in cramped conditions, he said, has led to inmates catching feelings for one another.

“Prisons and jails are overcrowded. In other words, due to this condition, their feet are touching, and their heads are touching, and their bodies are touching. The result is the emergence of homosexuality,” Sitinjak told Detik.

Such a statement isn’t that surprising, considering West Java is one of the most conservative areas in Indonesia.

It’s also worth noting that the issue of overcapacity in prisons is a major problem. West Javanese jails and prisons meant to hold 15,658 inmates, are filled to the brim with 23,681 detained.

Sitinjak said the solution to overcapacity is to stop incarcerating people for minor offenses, like drug use. Send them to rehab instead, he suggested. Sounds pretty progressive, right? Not so fast. His aims are conservative at their core, because with less prisoners and more space in cells, inmates won’t have to sleep so close to each other, which according to Sitinjak, means less homosexuality.

“So this is our challenge moving forward; we must decide who [for instance, drug offenders] should go to prison, and who needs rehabilitation. That way, we can avoid overcrowding,” Sitinjak said.

Sitinjak’s homophobic ramblings were met with praise and approval by high-ranking officials in the province.

Head of Security at Banceuy Prison in Bandung, Eris Ramdan, is one of them. He claimed six of his inmates exhibited signs of being a waria, an Indonesian term for “transwoman”. To avoid any “funny business,” he placed the six warias in a single cell. “We put the six of them together and separated them from the other inmates just to be safe,” Ramdan told Detik. Going by his logic, shouldn’t he be separating them from each other? Isn’t he enabling this “funny business” by forcing them together? Anyway.

Hery Kusrita, still another head of a jail also in Bandung, said he is “proud” that none of his inmates have exhibited gay and lesbian tendencies. This, even if his inmates are most likely also sleeping in cramped conditions, with a single 7x7 meter room being shared by 15 people.

Sitinjak has a solution though, or so he thinks. He said that more inmates should just back down and like the opposite sex, because Indonesian jails and prisons are cramped as is. He has also forced gay and lesbian inmates to undergo conversion therapy.

Sitinjak did get one thing right: there are too many offenders in West Javanese jails and prisons. In fact, 60 percent of inmates in West Java are incarcerated for drug use. Indonesia’s criminal law needs an update, considering minor drug offenses can earn you a three-year sentence.

Here’s a suggestion for officials: how about read up on research about homosexuality, and with overcrowding a concern, focus instead on fixing the justice system?

This article originally appeared on VICE Indonesia.

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