Sex outside marriage in Indonesia is now a criminal offence punishable by jail time, as is insulting the president and spreading “fake news” after the country’s parliament passed controversial amendments to its penal code despite community opposition. Witchcraft is also outlawed in the Southeast Asian nation where shaman and rainmakers still openly operate, after some legal experts argued such a law could prevent lynchings of accused sorcerers. Anyone convicted of claiming to have supernatural powers, or offering to cause illness, suffering or death faces a maximum 18 months’ imprisonment under the new law. Minimum prison terms for corruption, however, have been reduced from four years to two in a move likely to be cheered by grasping officials nationwide, given the number of bureaucrats charged with such offences in recent years.

MPs passed the sweeping changes to the country’s colonial era penal code notwithstanding mass protests in recent years over some of the revisions, and warnings from civil liberties groups that the changes wind back personal and democratic freedoms in the Muslim majority country. Amnesty International Indonesia director Usman Hamid said the legal revisions showed Indonesia, a country long hailed for its religious tolerance, was “going backward”. Among the new code’s most controversial articles are the criminalisation of premarital sex, a provision that will also affect the LGBTQ community, and the outlawing of cohabitation of unmarried couples. Extra-marital sex is already an offence though under new laws governing all three crimes, only a spouse, parent or child of an offender can make the complaint. Breaches of those laws will now be punishable by up to a year in prison.

A spokesman for the Law and Human Rights Ministry’s criminal code Bill dissemination team, Albert Aries, said the changes would protect the institution of marriage, but that restricting reporting to a close relative would limit the scope of the amendment. That will be little comfort to many progressive Indonesians or struggling tourism operators still trying to get back on their feet after more than two years of pandemic restrictions. Bali Tourism Board chairman Ida Bagus Agung Partha Adnyana said his board was not consulted over the new laws despite their potential to affect the industry and would appeal for “special treatment for Bali because it is a tourist area”. Mr Adnyana said many tourists and expats viewed the law as an overreach by the state into their private lives. “Their way of thinking is different. They see this is a private domain that the state wants to take care of. To them it’s a joke,” he said.

But an Australian tourist operator who owns and rents out villas in Bali said she feared the new laws could presage a wider, conservative crackdown within Indonesia, and that bans on alcohol could follow.  “It will definitely affect our occupancy, because there will be a percentage of people who will choose not to come to Bali,” the woman, said. “Our clientele is mainly Australian. Many people choose not to get married these days.” Of even greater concern to many Indonesians are new regulations restricting free speech, such as those which criminalise verbal or written insults against the president (maximum three years’ jail), and insulting police, parliament or other state institutions (maximum 18 months’ jail or two years if made via social media). Anyone who stages a public protest without first notifying authorities faces fines or up to six months’ jail, while those who broadcast, publish or disseminate “fake news” or information may be jailed for up to six years if it causes a riot.

Source: The Australian

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