“It’s not too late to return to God. God has not left you. Indonesia is a Muslim country, and we reject all sins. Let us help you drive Satan out from inside of you and you can become normal again,” reads a message sent through an Instagram account under the name Mohammad Susantu (@mohammadsusantu).
Set to private, the account was not accessible without request on Wednesday. It had five posts and fewer than 50 followers.
The message was sent to a number of prominent Indonesian LGBT rights organisations and activists. It included a link to a website offering so-called terapi konversi (conversion therapy) for LGBT people.
The website invited “individuals who are confused about their sexual identity” to visit clinics it purportedly runs to receive “services” including reluctance or electroconvulsive therapy, exorcism and corrective rape or “sex therapy.”
“I was shocked and angry, especially after seeing the site’s content, which is crazy,” said Acep Gates, 25, one of the activists who received the message through his Instagram account.
Acep has undergone conversion therapy in the form of ruqya (exorcism in Islam) twice in his life. Before coming out of the closet, Acep went to ruqya on his own initiative, because his religious family would not accept him being gay. That was in 2016.
After he came out in 2017, his family forced him to undergo yet another conversion therapy for several months.
The memories still haunt Acep.
“I hate myself even more afterwards. I was depressed and had to see a psychologist multiple times,” he said.
I Ketut Purba Widnyana, 37, from Surabaya-based GAYa NUSANTARA, also underwent conversion therapy when his mother took him to see a Balian (Balinese healer or shaman) who used electric shock to try and ‘convert’ him.
“I have heard of different types of conversion therapy, and in fact, I have gone through one. [That the website has] no shame advertising rape and calling it ‘corrective therapy’ is terrifying,” he said, adding that he had been perplexed when he received the message through his Instagram account.
In response, Pelangi Nusantara, an LGBT rights organisation, has started an online petition to have the website shut down.
“With enough support, we want the Ministry of Law and Human Rights to ban all forms of conversion therapy in Indonesia,” the organization said in a statement sent to The Jakarta Post.
Hani Kumala, 33, a psychologist from Atma Jaya University, criticized the website and said conversion therapy was pseudoscientific. “Forcing someone to see a psychologist without their consent is already a violation of human rights, let alone ‘corrective rape’,” she said.
Amar Alfikar, 29, a queer Muslim activist who also received the message through his Instagram account on Tuesday, called on religious figures and academics to pay attention to religion-based conversion therapy, which he said had been rampant even before the website had come into the spotlight.
“Religion is always used to justify persecution and violence toward women, queer and other minority groups,” he said, adding that he had also received threats and insults through social media even before the ‘attack’ began.
A screenshot from TerapiKonversi.co shows purported reasons for people becoming LGBT, including childhood sexual violence, Western media influence and being overpowered by an evil soul. (TerapiKonversi.co/screenshot )
On Dec 16, 2020, around 400 global religious leaders, including anti-apartheid campaigner Desmond Tutu and Britain’s Bishop of Liverpool, called for a global ban on LGBT+ conversion therapy, as reported by Reuters.
Amar cited research conducted by the Indonesian Trans Network, which stated that one of the respondents, a transwoman, had been forced to undergo conversion therapy when she was 12.
The research also highlighted the bina karakter (Character Development) program conducted by the Social Affairs Ministry that aimed to rehabilitate people with social issues, which included transwomen.
The research highlighted a reality TV show aired in 2008, Be A Man, where transwomen and gay men with “feminine” personalities participated in basic military training in the hope of turning them into “real men”.
“In reality, many queer people were already forced by their families to undergo conversion therapy,” said Amar.
The website only contains an email address and a link to a Facebook page, as well as an online form people can fill in with their contact details. Neither phone numbers nor physical addresses of the clinics are shown. No response was received to multiple contact attempts by The Jakarta Post.
The Facebook page, Terapi Konversi, was created on Nov 12, 2020 and ‘liked’ by 2,661 Facebook accounts with 2,664 Facebook accounts following it.
The page’s posts are mostly quotes from the Qur’an and videos focused on marital issues and repentance. It notably lacks an active comment section, with only a few lambasting conversion therapy. In some of the posts, the account claims to run clinics in Jakarta and Bali, but it points only to its website. No moderators of the Facebook page are named.
Andrian Liem, 32, a psychologist, said he was aware of the website’s existence since December 2020 and was intrigued about the methods and whether there were psychologists or psychiatrists involved in the clinics the website advertises.
“As a psychologist, I am bound by the ethics code of my profession to refer to scientific studies and other research that show that conversion therapy is not proven to alter someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” he said.
Andrian, who earned his PhD in clinical and health psychology from the School of Psychology at the University of Queensland, Australia, said people who had undergone conversion “therapy” would experience trauma and depression.
“Conversion “therapy” also triggers internalised homophobia for the survivors,” he said.
Curious about the website, Andrian left his contact information on the online form in December 2020.
“So far, I have not received a single message from them.”
“It wasn’t us!” says Muhammadiyah
The website’s domain was registered in June 2020.
Six pictures of people undergoing ruqya are featured on the website and are credited to “Persyarikatan Muhammadiyah”, which refers to Indonesia’s second-largest Muslim group, Muhammadiyah.
One of the pictures on the website, which appears to show a woman losing consciousness and being surrounded by several people, supposedly receiving ruqya treatment, is similar to a picture taken from news site Memo Indonesia.
According to Memo Indonesia, the woman in the picture suddenly lost consciousness after delivering cakes to a school in Bondowoso, East Java. The article did mention that the woman was “in trance”, but it was not because of ruqya.
Muhammadiyah has denied any role in “rape conversion” therapy, ruqya, and the website.
Sunanto, the chairman of Muhammadiyah’s youth wing Pemuda Muhammadiyah, told The Jakarta Post that “Muhammadiyah’s method is not ruqya. We use modern healing methods, such as mentoring, counselling and psychology.”
He added that, while it was possible that some Muhammadiyah members believed ruqya was effective, it was not the group’s method.
Lini Zurlia, 33, another activist who received the message through her Instagram account, stated that, regardless of the website’s authenticity, the authorities should look into it because of its dangerous messages.
She also mentioned another website, Aisha Wedding, which also went viral recently after the wedding organiser promoted child marriage online.
“Both child marriage and conversion therapy are premeditated crimes. [Regardless whether the websites] are fake or not, there are groups that have planned or even played a role in encouraging persecution and criminalisation of vulnerable groups, in this case girls and LGBTIQ people,” she said, adding that she doubted the issue had been raised to divert attention from other issues.
Lini also called on the government to investigate the individuals behind the two websites, adding that the Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) Law should be used in this case.
As for the conversion therapy website’s purported methodology, most everyone seems to agree it lacks any scientific basis.
While Muhammadiyah’s Sunanto did not condemn corrective therapy per se, of “corrective rape” he said: “That’s just nonsense.”