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Mob breaks up international LGBT conference
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Mob breaks up international LGBT conference

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A mob of Muslim fundamentalists attacked an international LGBT conference in Surabaya, Indonesia, on March 26.

Intimidated by the mob, Indonesian police banned the conference, and two of the host hotels evicted conference participants.

The conference had been organized by ILGA-Asia, a branch of the International Lesbian and Gay Association.

The conference had originally been scheduled for the French-owned Mercure Hotel, but after Muslim leaders threatened the management on March 25, the hotel abruptly canceled the conference and evicted participants from their rooms.

The conference was then transferred to the locally owned Oval Hotel.

Speaking by phone with Gay City News, ILGA Co-Secretary-General Renato Sabbadini, said that the mob invaded and occupied the Oval Hotel at around 1:00 p.m. on March 26, shortly after Friday morning prayer services in the city's mosques had concluded.

"The mob invaded the lobby of the [Oval] hotel and would not leave unless the police and the hotel management would guarantee that our conference would not go forward," Sabbadini told Gay City News.

The mob reportedly grew from about 50 people to 150.

According to Sabbadini, "The police claimed they were powerless to assure the security of the participants in our conference, with the local police passing the buck to the national police, while the national police said it was purely a local matter."

Indonesian newspapers said the mob was organized jointly by the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) - described by the Jakarta Post as a "radical" group of "hardline" fundamentalists - and the Indonesian Council of Ulema, an association of Muslim clerics.

"The rule of law was basically suspended during the occupation by the Islamists, and both the police and the hotel management gave in completely to the demands of the mob's leaders, who threatened to call in reinforcements if their demands were not met," Sabbadini said. "The hotel management even went so far as to give a complete list of the conference participants staying in the hotel to the mob.

"Later that evening, mob members conducted a floor-by-floor sweep of the hotel, going to the rooms of conference participants to make sure they had left."

Conference participant Joel Bedos, staff coordinator of the Paris-based International Day Against Homophobia Committee (IDAHO) said, "We had to hide in our hotel rooms, where we were confined, because a mob of men outside the hotel screamed threats at us as soon as they saw someone at the hotel's windows."

According to the Jakarta Globe, "When the ILGA members planned to hold a news conference after the raid, the Islamic Defenders Front members prevented them, leading to another skirmish."

King Oey, a member of Indonesia's oldest Gay group, GAYa Nusantara, reported that he was repeatedly punched by one of the mob leaders for refusing to turn over a list of participants.

According to the ILGA, 150 people from 14 Asian countries, including 60 Indonesians, attended the conference.

Indonesia, a nation of some 230 million people, has the world's largest Muslim population. According to the country's 2000 census, 86.1 percent of Indonesians are Muslims.

"East Java is a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism and extremism, which makes it one of the most hostile parts of Indonesia for LGBT people," Oey told Gay City News, "and the rise of these extremist groups here are the biggest threat to us now - more so than the police."

Oey reported that the Islamic Defenders Front was particularly dangerous. They "will use violence against LGBT people any time they think they can get away with it," he said.

The Front's secretary-general, Muhammad Chaenruddin, told Jakarta Post that "The foreigners were told to leave because Surabaya Muslims believe the conference was against religious values and teachings. We forced them to leave by Sunday, and we also told them not to make a media statement."

There is no national law making homosexuality illegal in Indonesia, but many provinces and cities have laws against "moral vice" that criminalize homosexuality along with prostitution and drug abuse.

According to Oey, "In general, the media here treat homosexuality as hype, and while a few newspapers have somewhat neutral or realistic treatment of homosexuality, for the most part an ingrained homophobic bias persists."

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