Police in Indonesia detained 58 people Friday during a raid on what authorities describe as a “gay spa,” AFP reports.
The authorities raided the Jakarta building, which houses a sauna and a gym, after receiving public information that it was being used for prostitution.
“We secured 51 and seven employees for allegedly providing pornographic services,” said Jakarta Police spokesman Argo Yuwono in a statement. A small group of foreigners were among those detained, including four men from China, but none were charged.
When asked what the men were doing in the spa at the time of the raid, Yuwono noted that it was dark. “LGBT is clearly between men and men or same-sex relationships,” he said. “Male prostitution.”
While most of the men arrested were released Saturday, police have detained several sauna employees, including a woman, who face charges of violating Indonesia’s pornography and prostitution laws. These strict laws prohibit “deviant sexual acts” that include oral sex, anal sex, and same-sex relations. Yuwono said that those charged could face up to six years in prison.
“If they raided [this club] because they are gay, it is abusive, it is abuse of power,” says Andreas Harsono, a Jakarta-based researcher for Human Rights Watch. “If there is no victim, there is no crime.”
Following a similar raid in May, 141 men were detained in Jakarta for allegedly participating in a gay sex party. Taken into police custody for violating pornography laws, the men were stripped and humiliated online.
Police also raided two hotel rooms in Surabaya where 14 men had gathered. Authorities ordered those men to undergo HIV tests and then reported the results to local media.
Although homosexuality is technically not a crime in most of Indonesia, the semi-autonomous northern province of Aceh, which has been governed by Sharia law since 2001, adopted a measure in 2015 that punishes same-sex relations with up to 100 lashes.
Aceh caned 339 people last year for offenses such as gambling to adultery, but the caning of two gay men in May, which appears to be Indonesia’s first public caning as a punishment for homosexuality, attracted unwanted international attention.
The gay men, ages 23 and 20, were given 83 lashes each in front of some 3,000 spectators. The men had been arrested in March after neighbors barged into their rented room and detained them while police arrived.
Following global outrage, Indonesia announced plans earlier this year to put an end to public floggings. Instead, they will cane people behind closed doors and away from cameras.
Acehnese leaders such as governor Irwandi Yusuf are reportedly worried that videos of these public floggings, which have been widely circulated, will make the province unappealing for potential investors.
Under the leadership of president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, Indonesia has seen an increase of anti-LGBT statements from militant Islamic government and religious officials calling for the criminalization of homosexuality, as well as escalating anti-LGBT harassment and violence.
A police chief in West Java, Indonesia’s most populous province, recently announced plans to deploy a task force whose sole operative will be to identify and persecute LGBT citizens.
As part of the country’s continuing crackdown on homosexuality, Indonesia’s House of Representatives is set to pass a law that will ban all LGBT characters from television programs broadcast in the country. Male actors have already been banned from behaving and dressing as women on TV. Government officials have also called to ban LGBT emojis and LGBT apps such as Grindr.