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Backlash in Indonesia as transgender woman put in male jail cell


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Indonesian rights groups have slammed police for placing a transgender woman in a jail cell with a man, saying it underscored widespread discrimination in the world’s biggest Muslim majority nation.

Social media influencer Millen Cyrus, 21, who has one million followers on Instagram, was detained with a male friend on drug-possession charges in the capital Jakarta at the weekend.

Cyrus told local media this week that she hoped she would be moved from the male holding cell.

Authorities have since placed her in a solitary cell. But they defended the initial decision by pointing to the suspect’s government identity card which said Cyrus was male.

“The perpetrator’s status was male as acknowledged in his identity card,” said Jakarta police spokesman Yusri Yunus.

“However, given the situation, (authorities) placed her in a special cell alone.”

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The move sparked a backlash on social media and rights groups said it highlighted the challenges faced by gay and transgender Indonesians.

Two years ago, police in the conservative province of Aceh made headlines when they publicly humiliated a dozen transgender women by forcibly cutting their hair as they made the group wear male clothing and speak in a masculine voice.

“We’re demanding that police respect the rights of suspects during investigations with non-discriminatory and non-transphobic perspectives,” said Arus Pelangi at Indonesia’s Transgender Network.

“Police discriminated against her gender identity … by placing (Cyrus) in a men’s detention cell.”

The Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR) said authorities need to do a better of job of respecting transgender people.

“Authorities should have been able to see the vulnerability of a suspect,” said ICJR researcher Maidina Rahmawati.

“If they were confused about where to place (Cyrus), they should have involved psychologists or social workers who are able to assess (her) needs.”

Indonesian law does not recognise same-sex marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships.

A national bill to criminalise homosexuality, along with cohabitation, adultery and the practice of witchcraft, failed to be enacted in 2003 and no subsequent bill has been reintroduced.


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