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Jakarta police have rounded up 141 men they say were having a “sex party” at Atlantis, a gay sauna in the capital city, authorities announced yesterday.

By Nathan James

The men were publicly paraded in front of the police station in North Jakarta, after being charged with violating the country’s anti-pornography laws, said Jenna Hartoyo, of the gay-rights group Sura Kita. “It’s very difficult for us to express our sexuality like [straight] people,” Hartoyo said of life in the predominantly Islamic nation, where homosexuality isn’t illegal–except in Aceh province where two young men found in bed together last year were recently sentenced to 85 public lashes–but vague, broadly defined laws like the pornography statute are increasingly being used to target gays, women who violate public dress codes, and others who “breach standards of public morality“.

Jakarta police took the “highly dangerous” step of releasing shirtless photos of the men arrested to the media, which, Hartoyo warns, “could lead to retaliation against them by their families.” The island archipelago, located astride the Pacific and Indian oceans, has “strong societal taboos” against homosexuality, Out Right International Executive Director Jessica Stern notes. “Over the past 18 months crackdowns have increased and the situation has become much worse for LGBT people,” Stern said. “LGBT Indonesians are equal citizens and must not be singled out and oppressed simply for who they love or who they are.”

The LGBT community in Indonesia often gathers in locations hidden from public view, like saunas, to avoid detection by authorities or religious groups. The mass arrests are said to be part of a pre-Ramadan crackdown by authorities, say regional experts. “The government is trying to co-opt the religious narrative,” observed Tobias Basuki of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Charges of blasphemy and public indecency are climbing“.

Jakarta police decline comment on whether the men arrested would be further detained before court hearings on the charges.

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