Two trans women are forced to have their hair cut by police in Aceh. | Photo: YouTube
Twelve trans women detained in Aceh were kicked, slapped and had shots fired in the air to keep them in line in a humiliating display of discrimination.
The world was shocked when images of the trans women having their hair forcibly shaved by local police were published in Indonesia’s conservative Islamic province. Aceh is the only Indonesian province allowed to rule using Islamic Sharia Law.
For the first time since that night they have shared what happened to them on the condition of anonymity. Amnesty International Indonesia interviewed them in secret.
Police conducted a late night raid on Saturday 27 January at multiple hair salons where the women worked and rounded them up. Police justified the raids as a war ‘programme to clean Aceh from transgender women’.
Degrading, perhaps torturous treatment
The police chief delivered a speech condemning transgender women to a growing crowd of onlookers. They cheered and shouted ‘oust them [from Aceh]. Just burn them. Just kill [them]’.
The police chief brought the 12 victims to his and ordered them to walk in a humiliating fashion to a nearby park, while shouting instructions at them and handcuffing one.
In front of the crowd, police forced the 12 people through a mock military training – apparently to make them ‘manlier’. They were ordered to roll on the ground in the park.
When one of the trans women refused to roll on the ground, the police chief fired a warning shot to scare her.
Another officer later threw water on the face of one of the victims for protesting their inhumane treatment.
Then police forced them to take off their clothes, leaving them only wearing trousers.
One spoke up about their treatment:
‘Just shoot me. This is about dignity.’
The police chief replied:
‘You as a transgender do not have the right to have dignity.’
It was next the police forcibly cut the hair of six of the women. They were told to urinate into a bottle for a drug test, but refused.
Police forced one of the women to hose down the bodies of the others. She was then kicked by the police chief because she had not properly washed the others.
The women were ordered to shout ‘like a man’ and the police chief slapped one of them with a sandal for not sounding enough like a man.
Another police officer later slapped the same victim with a sandal on her ears and mouth, cracking her lips.
A cold night in lockup
They women were forced to sleep on the cold floor in their wet trousers without mattresses in police.
Eleven of the women were released the next, but first were forced to attend a religious sermon by a Muslim cleric. The cleric told them to return to ‘your nature’ and that ‘it is OK to kill transgender or other LGBTI people because they are more evil than kafir [infidel]’.
One of the women stayed in custody until the Monday because police found an explicit video on her phone. Indonesia has strict anti-pornography laws.
The women were released on the condition they sign a contract – even though they were not allowed to read what it said. They apparently signed to agree not to act ‘like women’ in the future.
Living in fear
Since that night the women have lived in fear for their safety and some are planning to flee Aceh.
Some of the women have been intimidated by neighbours or even family members since the raid. One woman was kicked and had a stone thrown after the raids.
They also lost their jobs and employers are afraid to hire them because of police attention. Police also banned trans people from owning or working in beauty salons, which is one of the few sources of employment for trans women in Aceh.
The victims have been left deeply traumatised by the raid. They spoke to Amnesty International about their ‘punishments’.
Amnesty said when they were subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and possibly torture, under international law.
‘It is appalling that a group of heavily armed police officers raided and arrested transgender women on the basis of nothing but hatred,’ said Usman Hamid, Amnesty Indonesia Executive Director.
‘Local authorities and ordinary people, in the name of Shari’a law, have colluded to attack and humiliate these transgender women.
‘We believe the actions of the police amount to torture under international law.’
Indonesia must act
Amensty called on the Indonesian government to properly investigate and punish those who were involved in the ‘war against transgenders’.
‘The harrowing tales of these women must be a wake-up call to the Indonesian authorities and people everywhere. The human rights of all Indonesians… must be upheld and protected equally.
‘President Joko Widodo must instruct the National Police to order North Aceh police to stop attacking and start protecting transgender people, should they receive threats and intimidations from local people.’