Indonesia’s parliament has approved a criminal law banning extramarital sex with a penalty of up to a year in prison, as part of a raft of legal changes that critics say undermine civil liberties in the world’s third-largest democracy.
Australians visiting a popular tourist hotspot, Bali, need to be wary of the laws, with the new law applying to Indonesians and foreigners alike.
as well as banning extramarital sex, Cohabitation between unmarried couples will also be prohibited. It was passed with the support of all political parties and despite warnings from business groups that it could scare away tourists and hurt investment.
Currently, Indonesia prohibits adultery but not premarital sex.
Activists protest against the new criminal law outside the parliament building in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. source: Getty, AFP / Brother Berry
Other new changes in the criminal code include banning black magic, insulting the president or state institutions, publishing views opposed to the state’s ideology, and organizing protests without notice.
Here’s everything you need to know about this controversial new law.
When does the law come into effect?
Indonesian President Joko Widodo urged Parliament to pass the bill this year, before the political climate in the country heats up ahead of presidential elections scheduled for early 2024.
The Code will not come into force for three years to allow the drafting of implementing regulations.
Why was the law passed?
The revision of Indonesia’s criminal law, which dates back to the Dutch colonial era, has been debated for decades.
“The old law belongs to the Dutch heritage… and it is no longer relevant now,” Bambang Worianto, the chairman of the parliamentary committee tasked with reviewing the law, told the politicians.
A spokesperson for the Criminal Law Publication Team at the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, Albert Aris, said the law would protect marriage institutions.
He said that acts of premarital and extramarital sex could only be reported by the spouse, parents or children, which limited the scope of the amendment.
The new laws will also include reduced sentences for those accused of corruption.
The government planned to pass a review of the country’s colonial-era criminal law in 2019 .
Since then, politicians have softened some sentences.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo urged parliament to pass the bill this year. source: aap / Athit Perawongmetha
What is the reaction to the new laws?
Rights groups have criticized the legislation as a morality check, and activists have denounced it as a suppression of civil and political liberties. They say the proposals underscore a growing shift towards fundamentalism in a country that has long hailed religious tolerance with the secularism enshrined in its constitution.
But the largest Muslim-majority country in the world has seen a rise in religious conservatism in recent years.
“We are backing away… Repressive laws should have been repealed, but the bill shows that the arguments of scholars abroad are valid, and that our democracy is unquestionably deteriorating,” Osman Hamid, Indonesia director of Amnesty International, told AFP.
Maulana Yusran, vice-chairman of the Indonesian Tourism Industry Board, said the new law was “completely counterproductive” at a time when the economy and tourism were beginning to recover from the pandemic.
“Hotels or any of the accommodation facilities are like second homes for tourists. With the passage of this criminal law, hotels are now problematic places,” he said.
Opponents of the bill have highlighted the articles which they say are socially regressive, would limit freedom of expression and represent a setback in ensuring the preservation of democratic freedoms after the fall of authoritarian leader Suharto in 1998.
Responding to the criticism, Indonesia’s Minister of Law and Human Rights, Yasuna Lawley, told parliament: “It is not easy for a multicultural and multi-ethnic country to create a criminal law that can accommodate all interests.”
About a hundred people protested the bill on Monday, unfurling a yellow banner reading “Refusal to pass the Criminal Code Amendment,” with some flower petals thrown at the banner as at a funeral.
Abdul Ghaffar, an activist with the Indonesian environmental organization WALHI, said the symbolic acts signified the public’s “sadness” over the imminent approval of the revision.
Another protest against the new law is scheduled for Tuesday in front of the parliament building.
How can laws affect the LGBTIQ+ community?
There are also concerns that these rules will have a significant impact on the LGBTIQ+ community in Indonesia where same-sex marriage is not permitted.
Legal experts say the presence of an article in customary law can reinforce discriminatory and Sharia-inspired regulations at the local level, and pose a particular threat to LGBT people.
“Regulations inconsistent with human rights principles will occur in conservative areas,” said Bevetri Susanti, of the Indonesia Genera School of Law, referring to existing regulations in some areas imposing curfews on women, or targeting what is described as “regulations that are inconsistent with human rights principles.” perverted sexual.