Even in ultra-conservative Aceh – the only province in Indonesia allowed to implement Islamic sharia law – last Sunday's persecution of 12 transgender women still came as quite as a shock to many due to the extremely demeaning treatment the women received at the hands of both the police and civilians.
On Sunday, the sharia police and civilians (later understood to be members of Islamic organizations) in North Aceh arrested 12 transgender women (referred to locally as waria, a portmanteau of the Indonesian words for woman and man) during what they termed a "operasi penyakit masyarakat" (community sickness operation). The 12 warias were taken to a local police station to receive coaching in order to "become real men", which included having their heads shaved and making them chant loudly "until their male voices came out."
After the incident was exposed by the international media, with rights activists from around the world condemning the act, North Aceh Police Chief Untung Sangaji defended his and his officers' actions, saying the waria would be targeted for violence otherwise.
"Many NGOs and Islamic organizations wanted to crush them. I received that info and then I went to seek the blessing of ulemas (Islamic scholars) [to coach the warias]. If I didn't find them and give them guidance, I think they would have been crushed by the public," Untung said today, as quoted by Detik.
Untung added that he regrets if anybody thinks that he violated the warias' human rights. He said he truly believes that they have saved the transgender women by coaching them to be real men in accordance with "their nature."
"If I didn't do this then it's feared that more from future generations will emulate them. I fear that in the future [warias] will increase, that's why I had to act," he said.
Untung did not say which NGOs or Islamic organizations wanted to physically attack the warias or whether this trend would continue in the region. But considering how a select few civilians were easily able to persuade the police to attack others, being labeled a "moral deviant" in Aceh is probably more dangerous now than ever.
In May, two men in Aceh were each caned 82 times in public after being found guilty of homosexual acts. International and local human rights advocates have strongly denounced Aceh's official policy of discrimination towards the LGBT community.
In addition to the LGBT minority, authorities in the region often persecute individuals for simply breaking societal norms about appearance and behavior. Sharia police often target members of Aceh's punk community and, after detaining them, will usually shave their heads and give them "moral guidance" before releasing them.