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Rights groups decry public shaming of transgender people in Indonesia

A dozen transgender women were detained and forced to cut their hair and dress like men to look more "masculine."

JAKARTA - Rights groups on Tuesday condemned the actions of religious police in Indonesia’s ultra-conservative province of Aceh, where a dozen transgender people were detained at hair salons at the weekend and “publicly shamed”.

Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population but Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra, is the only province that enforces Islamic law and outlaws homosexuality.

This handout photo taken on January 29, 2018 and released on January 30, 2018 by the North Aceh Police shows the police chief of North Aceh (C) posing with transgender women wearing male clothing following a raid in North Aceh.Handout / AFP - Getty Images

Religious police and vigilantes in Aceh often raid homes and places of work and detain people on suspicion of engaging in homosexual activity.

Police in North Aceh district confirmed the raids and detentions of 12 transgender people after residents complained their children were being harassed, the national daily Kompas said.

“There were mothers who came crying to me, worried about their children,” said district police chief Ahmad Untung. “This is not right, and we hope this social disease can be resolved,” he told the paper.

The suspects were forced to cut their hair to look more “masculine” and were later released without charge, media said.

Image: Anti-LGBT protest
A group of Muslim protesters march with banners against the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Banda Aceh on Dec. 27, 2017.Chaideer Mahyuddin / AFP/Getty Images file

Rights group Amnesty International said the raid showed Aceh had become “an increasingly hostile place” for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

“The latest raids on beauty salons are just the latest example of the authorities arbitrarily targeting transgender people simply for who they are,” Usman Hamid of Amnesty International Indonesia said in a statement.

“Cutting the hair of those arrested to ‘make them masculine’ and forcing them to dress like men are forms of public shaming and amount to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, in contravention of Indonesia’s international obligations.”

Last year, the provincial and central governments drew international condemnation after authorities in Aceh tried two young men on charges of engaging in gay sex and then publicly caned them - the first such case in the country.

Indonesia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has drawn increasing hostility in recent years. Conservative groups and politicians have urged parliament to revise the national criminal code to criminalize same-sex relations.