Extramarital sex, cohabitation outside of wedlock, providing contraception to children under 18, the abortion pill, insulting the president, all will be crimes punishable by jail terms in Indonesia under proposed amendments to the country’s criminal code. Foreigners will not be exempt from the legal changes exposing tens of thousands of young Australians who holiday in Bali each year to criminal charges. Law and human rights activists have appealed to President Joko Widodo who has agreed to suspend the draconian amendments to the country’s criminal code until a new parliament is inaugurated in coming months when debate will begin again and a new vote taken.
Critics have described the criminal code amendments as “disastrous” for Indonesia, most particularly women and religious and gender minorities, and warned of far-reaching social consequences for a Muslim-majority nation that has prided itself on its tolerance but which has grown more conservative. Human Rights Watch (HRW) singled out provisions effectively censoring the dissemination of information about contraception and the criminalisation of some abortions as setting back “women’s and girls’ rights under international law to make their own choices about having children”.
Criminalising sex outside marriage risked filling the country’s already overcrowded jails with people convicted of minor morality offences, HRW Indonesia campaigner Andreas Harsono warned, pointing to a Durex survey suggesting as many as 40% of young, unmarried Indonesians had already had sexual relations. Under the new code those reported for doing so could face up to a year in prison. Activists have also criticised the proposed expansion of blasphemy laws, which in Indonesia are used almost exclusively against religious minorities, to include jail terms for insulting religious objects such as the Koran, the Bible or religious statues.
Mr Harsono said the proposed amendments “strengthened Islamic fundamentalism” in Indonesia and signalled the re-emergence of authoritarianism. “Criminalising criticism of the president and courts, these are all authoritarian measures, while laws against extramarital or unmarried sex (which by its nature criminalises homosexuality), and abortion, are the Islamic parts of the code,” he said. “This is going to make managing the relationship between Australia and Indonesia increasingly complicated.” Indonesian MPs have largely rejected criticism of the reforms, pointing to a decades-long debate that incorporated consultation with a broad range of interest groups.
“Of course there are restrictions,” Muhammad Nasir Djamil, a member of the parliamentary Criminal Code Working Committee and an MP with the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party, said. “There is no such thing as freedom without limits. We are not a liberal country, Indonesia is not the West. Tens of thousands of young Australians who holiday in Bali each year will be exposed to potential criminal so-called sin charges. “We want to protect religious values from getting contaminated by deviant cultures.” Another politician, when asked whether tourists in Indonesia could face jail for extramarital sex, said: “No problem, as long as people don’t know.”
Legal experts agree on the need to change Indonesia’s colonial era crimes act, drawn up by the Dutch more than a century ago. Sydney University’s Simon Butt said the act needed to be reformed, given the code was a cumbersome document full of “antiquated language” and provisions added over decades, but added MPs had appeared to be trying to rush the code through parliament. “It was certainly ripe for replacement or significant amendment but I don’t see any silver lining in the new draft,” Professor Butt said, adding the new code appeared even to roll back some legal reforms made in recent years.
Source: Compiled by APN from media reports