Jakarta. Insulting, offensive, disappointing and illogical — just a few of the words used to describe Communications and Information Technology Minister Tifatul Sembiring after yet another Twitter faux pas.
The minister raised the hackles of gay rights activists with a series of homophobic tweets sent out on Wednesday night, in which he blamed “perverted sex acts” for the spread of HIV/AIDS.
In one tweet, he quoted a passage from the Koran that told of Allah “smiting [homosexuals] with rocks from a burning land.”
Another of his tweets, ostensibly meant as a joke, broke down the acronym AIDS into “Akibat Itunya Dipakai Sembarangan,” or “What you get for sticking your penis just about anywhere.”
Not everyone, however, thought the joke was funny.
Merlyn Sopjan, the head of the Malang Transsexuals Association (Iwama), told the Jakarta Globe on Thursday that as a minister and someone in an influential position, Tifatul should not have posted such tweets.
“He should be more careful about the words he uses, because not all people will treat such harsh opinions as a joke,” she said.
She added that his remarks “insult those living with HIV/AIDS. I’m very disappointed that such a polemic could come from a minister.”
Ricky Gunawan, the program director of the Community Legal Aid Foundation (LBH Masyarakat), told the Globe that Tifatul should have used his tweets to educate his followers about HIV/AIDS, not to rant.
“Tifatul is a member of the KPAN [National AIDS Commission], and as a minister he’s wholly responsible for matters of information and communication,” Ricky said.
“Logically, he should have tweeted useful information about HIV/AIDS, but the comments he made instead were misleading, strongly prejudiced, and stigmatized those living with HIV/AIDS.”
Tifatul’s religious and moral take on the disease was unacceptable because he was a public official, Ricky added.
“It just goes to show that he doesn’t understand the issues of HIV/AIDS,” he said.
Ricky added that the remarks hurt not only those in the gay community, but also transgenders and intravenous drug users — all high-risk groups for HIV infections.
In response to the uproar caused by his comments, Tifatul posted another tweet on Wednesday night: “Since when are we forbidden to comment on Twitter? Please act like an adult and stop judging.”
The minister first waded into the HIV/AIDS quagmire in June when he linked the country’s rising rate of infections to growing access to pornography, which he said led to increased promiscuity and transmission of the virus.
He also said the money used for HIV/AIDS programs could be better spent elsewhere.
“Every year the state spends Rp 180 billion [$20 million] to deal with the problems caused by [sex outside of wedlock], such as the spread of HIV/AIDS,” Tifatul said at the time.
“The budget could actually be reduced and the money allocated for other things that are beneficial to the country.”