Indonesia police probe Aceh abuse of transgender women

Muslim protesters pray as they burn an effigy during an anti-LGBT rally in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, Friday, Feb. 2, 2018. Several hundreds of people staged the rally to protest against an investigation into local police who rounded up and publicly humiliated transgender women. (AP Photo/Hendri Abik)

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia — Muslims in Indonesia's conservative and semiautonomous Aceh province protested an investigation into local police who rounded up and publicly humiliated transgender women.

Several hundred people rallied outside the Baiturrahman Grand Mosque in the provincial capital after Friday prayers, carrying banners the read "LGBT is not Aceh local wisdom" and "Free Aceh from transvestites."

Videos circulated online showed that police forced the 12 transgender women to dress as men, shaved their heads and berated them about not being masculine. They were rounded up last weekend in raids on hair salons in North Aceh's Lhoksukon neighborhood. Parents claimed they had harassed or seduced their teenage sons, according to police.

Social media in Muslim-majority Indonesia have exploded with criticism of the police's behavior.

National Police spokesman Mochammad Iqbal said an internal police unit is investigating officers including North Aceh police Chief Untung Sangaji.

The rally, which was attended by Aceh Gov. Irwandi Yusuf, was mostly peaceful.

"We do not hate LGBT people, but what we hate is their behavior," Yusuf told the crowd, which chanted Sangaji's name.

"We cannot blame the actions of the North Aceh police," Yusuf said.

Aceh is the only province in Indonesia to practice Shariah law. Its implementation by religious police and local authorities, allowed by an autonomy deal with the central government that ended a separatist war, has become increasingly harsh.

Calls to the mobile numbers of some of the transgender women were answered by activists or relatives.

"They are still very traumatized by the bad treatment against them, they're afraid to talk to anyone in this situation, please understand," said rights activist Fais Ichall.

Amnesty International Indonesia Executive Director Usman Hamid said the raids on beauty salons are just the latest example of the authorities arbitrarily targeting transgender people simply for who they are.

"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," he said in a statement.

Sangaji told reporters earlier this week that the police actions were discussed beforehand with Islamic scholars and police were acting according to Aceh's laws.

"We helped them to return to their nature as men," Sangaji said.

Iqbal said the 12 were released late Monday. He said they can return to work and would be given training to improve their skills as long as they dress as men.

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Karmini reported from Jakarta, Indonesia.

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