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The foreign ministry of Indonesia has made a formal complaint to Britain’s ambassador after the rainbow flag was flown from the British embassy alongside the Union Jack to commemorate the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) on 17 May. British Ambassador, Owen Jenkins, was summoned earlier today (23 May) and asked to explain why the UK mission chose to ignore “local sensitivities”.

Although homosexuality is not illegal in Indonesia – with the exception of the province of Aceh, which is governed by shariah law – it is still considered unacceptable throughout the country, with a 2020 survey by the Pew Research Centre showing that 80 per cent of Indonesians believe that homosexuality “should not be accepted by society”.

In a statement, the influential conservative Islamic group Alumni 212 Brotherhood, said that the rainbow flag “sullied the sacred values of Indonesia” while Teaku Faizasyah, a spokesperson for the Indonesian foreign ministry, commented, “The foreign ministry reminds foreign representatives to be respectful of the sensitivities among Indonesians on matters relevant with their culture, religion and belief.”

Faizasyah added that, although international law considers foreign embassies as sovereign territory, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations stipulates only that nation’s flag can be flown.

Human rights groups have been voicing concerns that conservative Islam is having an increasingly large influence on Indonesian politics and public life, with amendments to the country’s criminal code – which include proposals for stricter anti-LGBTQ legislation – currently being considered by the Indonesian parliament. 

Recently, a public backlash forced a popular podcast to cancel an episode which featured a gay couple.

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