By Sylvia Tan
Close to 50 people protested the police's inaction by cycling near the park where the scheduled event was to be held but the gathering was cut short after participants were warned that members of the Islamist group bent on breaking up any IDAHO activity were on their way.
A concert to be held in a public park in Yogyakarta (or Jogjakarta), Indonesia for LGBTIQ artists to showcase their talents and to commemorate International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) last Saturday had to be cancelled after their permit was revoked, organisers told Fridae. Diversity Stage was to be the finale of a three-part IDAHO programme to be held on the evening of Saturday, 22 May, at Sasono Hinggil, a large hall situated in Alun-alun Selatan (the South Square) in a public park.
Yuventius Nicky Nurman, a co-organiser of the event, told Fridae in a statement that on the afternoon of Friday, 21 May, a representative of Sasono Hinggil went to the office of the IDAHO planning committee and requested that the building-usage permit that Sasono Hinggil had previously issued be returned.
Organisers say they were told by the representative said that the local police had officially asked the venue to rescind their permit citing violent threats received from Islam Defenders Front (aka Front Pembela Islam / FPI) – the same group that forced the cancellation of the ILGA Asia conference in Surabaya and the Human Rights training event at Depok, near Jakarta.
On the morning of Saturday, May 22, a small group from the IDAHO committee went to the police headquarters to confirm what they were told. The police verified the existence of the FPI threat; and the organisers were given an official letter, and oral explanation as to why the police will not issue a permit for Diversity Stage. The reasons as provided by the event organisers to Fridae:
1. Allowing Diversity Stage to be staged was "not conducive to public safety and order."
2. Referring to similar events in Surabaya and Depok as precedents, the "highly contentious content of the event had caused clashes."
3. "The police had to maintain public order for the sake of a conducive atmosphere to support the then-upcoming local election."
The statement continued: “The police also made it very clear that should we pursue our event in spite of everything, they will not be able to guarantee the safety of the attendees. Pursue at your own risk, that was essentially what they said.”
Organisers then decided to cancel Diversity Stage and in its place, staged a mass cycling event given that Alun-alun Selatan is known for tandem-cycling.
“It was a Saturday evening and there were lots of tandem bicycles available for rent. We thought why not use them to our advantage. We could still protest by showing up in spite of the threat, and we could do so in an activity that is common in that area. That way the police would have no reason to kick us out,” Nurman told Fridae.
Organisers say close to 50 people showed up wearing white shirts to mark their peaceful intent and protest the police's inaction by cycling in the area as they chanted Indonesia's national anthem, and songs related to their struggle.
But that was not to be either.
Some of the participants had received text messages while they were cycling that members of FPI were on their way to break up the event.
Nurman described the incident: “At that moment we took the decision to disperse in order to avoid unnecessary violent clash. We managed to escape. Some of us stayed and blended into the growing crowd. We saw FPI members coming in two jeeps, a few trucks, and at least a dozen motorcycles. They were wielding steel bars. We were lucky we got that text message warning.”
The determined 25-year-old graduate of University of Wollongong in Australia, who said he proposed the cycling event as a sign of protest after being inspired by what he heard about the recent Pink Dot rally in Singapore, is not giving up the fight.
“What happened to us is nothing new here in Indonesia. ILGA Asia went through what we went through. But we did something different.
"The Pink Dot rally gave us an example of how we can fight back. It showed us that even a simple picnic can send a bold message out. So we fought back the Jogja way. We cycled. We will continue our struggle. You will hear more from us. We are not done yet. We hope our little stubborn attempt will send a message to our friends out there that activism lives in Indonesia.”