An international GLBTI rights conference has been broken up in the Indonesian city of Surabaya after hundreds of Islamic activists surrounded the conference and stalked attendees.
Around 200 GLBTI activists from all over Asia had gathered in Surabaya to attend the 4th Regional Conference of the International Lesbian & Gay Association (ILGA) Asia on March 26 to discuss issues and draft an action plan for cooperation between ILGA Asia’s over one hundred member organisations.
But at 1pm members of the Indonesian Council of Ulemas, the Islamic Defenders Front, and Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia arrived in a convoy of vehicles.
The Indonesian Council of Ulemas is a clerical body representing conservative Muslims. The Islamic Defenders Front is a militia known for violent attacks on institutions it sees as un-Islamic, while Hizb ut-Tahrir is an international group seeking a global Islamic Califate.
Around 50 men entered the reception area of Hotel Oval, shouting that they would not leave until the hotel expelled anyone connected to the conference and threatened to call in reinforcements.
Conference-goers having lunch in the hotel’s lobby were quickly warned and returned to their rooms. However Islamist activists were later seen stalking hotel corridors.
Around 6pm another 30 men on motorcycles arrived at the hotel while dozens more gathered a few blocks away.
Other hotels in the city where it was believed conference-goers were staying were also targeted.
After 8pm protesters began to thin so conference organisers took the opportunity to evacuate the conference and ILGA have since confirmed that all members were able to escape without injury.
In the fall-out from the event local police have been criticised for failing to act against protesters by members of the Indonesian Government, with Benny Harman, an MP with the ruling Democratic Party, telling the Jakarta Post that being able to hold such a conference was a basic human right.
“Gays and lesbians are citizens whose political and legal rights are guaranteed and protected by the Constitution, which allows freedom of opinion”, said Harman, “The state should in no way forbid the congress from being held.”
Another MP, Pieter Zulkifli, called the conference a “celebration of democracy and human rights”.
Australian ILGA representative Simon Margan said, “whilst the ILGA Asia conference was disrupted by religious extremists the actual event enabled LGBTI activists from all over Asia to liaise and re-affirm a concrete strategy for countering governmental persecution and general homophobia in the Asia region.
“In addition simply having a LGBTI rights conference in an Islamic country, however short lived, is a small step forward. In this respect the conference was a success.”

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