University officials in Indonesia this month ordered a student news website shut down its entire operation after it published a fictional same-sex short story.
Student journalists could also face up to 12 years in prison under Indonesia’s draconian pornography law, which forbids anything with ‘salacious content or sexual exploitation that violate the moral values of society’.
The 18 members of editorial staff at North Sumatra University (USU) were given just 48 hours to close the site and vacate the newsroom.
‘They say that the short stories we publish contain pornographic and LGBT elements’ publisher and author of the story Yael Stefany Sinaga told Gay Star News.
‘in my opinion, there is nothing wrong and I just want to say that we should not discriminate against minorities like LGBT’ the publisher said. ‘Injustice is rampant’.
According to HRW researcher Andreas Harsono, it is a sign that Indonesia’s anti-LGBT moral panic is ‘escalating’.
Since January 2016, Indonesian authorities have been using blasphemy, pornography and public nuisance laws to arrest LGBTI citizens.
Indonesia’s national broadcasting commission has also banned LGBT content from TV and radio.
Although gay sex is not banned in the country, except for one province, there are no legal protections for LGBTI people.
This latest development means the crackdown is ‘not only an LGBT rights issue but also media freedom’ Harsona told Gay Star News.
‘A simple love story’
Publisher and author Yael Stefany Sinaga wrote the 1,000-word story about a woman expressing her love for another young woman.
Titled Everyone Refuses My Presence Near Her, it was published on March 12. The journalists also shared it on social media.
‘Human Rights Watch considers that piece is a very simple love story’ Harsono said. ‘It’s not a pornographic story.’
University president Runtung Sitepu reportedly summoned website members to his office on March 25.
They were later ordered to close the whole site.
Living in fear
Harsono said the threat from the pornography law was ‘very real’.
‘We have recorded jail cases in Surabaya, Bandung, and Jakarta where gay men were charged with the law’ he said.
What’s more, the newsroom was not an LGBT community he said. But, they wanted to defend LGBT rights.
The newsroom crackdown will send the message that people who have sympathy toward the community are also being targeted.
LGBT and free speech activists were planning to protest the closure on Tuesday (26 March).
Yael Stefany Sinaga said the fired journalists will hold open discussions.
‘We also invite writers, legal institutions to analyze the contents of our short stories’ she said.
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Author: Rik Glauert