Indonesia’s Parliament votes to ban sex outside of marriage

Indonesia’s parliament on Tuesday unanimously passed a long-awaited revision of the penal code, which criminalizes sex outside of marriage for citizens and foreigners alike, bans the promotion of contraception and prohibits insulting the president and state institutions.

The amended code also expands an existing blasphemy law and maintains a five-year prison sentence for deviations from the central tenets of Indonesia’s six recognized religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism.

Citizens can face a 10-year prison sentence for associating with organizations that follow Marxist-Leninist ideology and a four-year prison sentence for spreading communism.

The code retains the previous criminalization of abortion but adds exceptions for women with life-threatening medical conditions and for rape, provided the fetus is less than 12 weeks old, in line with what is already provided for in a 2004 Medical Practice Law.

Rights groups criticized some of the versions as too broad or vague and warned that adding them to the code would penalize normal activities and threaten freedom of expression and privacy rights.

However, some advocates hailed the passage as a victory for the country’s LGBTQ community. During hard deliberation, lawmakers eventually agreed to remove an article proposed by Islamic groups that would have made gay sex illegal.

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The revised code also retains the death penalty in the criminal justice system despite calls by the National Human Rights Commission and other groups to abolish the death penalty, as dozens of other countries have done. But under the new code, the death penalty has a probationary period. If the convict behaves well in a period of 10 years, the death sentence will be commuted to life imprisonment or 20 years imprisonment.

Under Indonesian regulations, legislation passed by parliament becomes law after being signed by the president. But even without the president’s signature, it automatically takes effect after 30 days, unless the president issues a regulation to cancel it.

President Joko Widodo is widely expected to sign the revised code in light of its extended approval process in parliament. But the law is likely to take effect gradually over a period of up to three years, according to Deputy Minister of Law and Human Rights Edward Hiariej.

“A lot of implementing regulations have to be worked out, so it’s impossible in a year,” he said.

The amended code states that sex outside marriage is punishable by a year in prison and cohabitation of six months, but adult charges must be based on police reports filed by a spouse, parents or children.

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It restores a ban on insulting a sitting president or vice president, state institutions and the national ideology. Offenses against a sitting president must be reported by the president and can lead to up to three years in prison.

Hiariej said the government would “give the strictest possible explanation, distinguishing between insults and criticism.”

The penal code had languished for decades while lawmakers in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation struggled with how to adapt their traditional culture and norms to the code, a legacy of Dutch colonial rule. Indonesia declared independence on August 17, 1945.

An earlier revised code was poised for passage in 2019, but President Widodo urged lawmakers to delay a vote amid public criticism that led to nationwide protests attended by tens of thousands of people. Opponents said it contained articles that discriminated against minorities and that the legislative process lacked transparency. Widodo instructed Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly to get input from various groups as lawmakers debated the articles.

A parliamentary taskforce finalized the bill in November and lawmakers unanimously approved it on Tuesday, in what Laoly hailed as a “historic step.”

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“It turns out that it is not easy for us to break away from the colonial legacy, even if this nation no longer wants to use colonial products,” Laoly said at a press conference.

“The finalization of this process shows that even 76 years after the Dutch Criminal Code was adopted as the Indonesian Criminal Code, it is never too late to produce laws on your own,” Laoly said. “The Criminal Code is a reflection of the civilization of a nation.”

Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday that laws punishing criticism of public leaders are against international law, and the fact that certain forms of expression are considered offensive is not enough to justify restrictions or punishments.

“The danger of oppressive laws is not that they are applied broadly, it is that they provide avenues for selective enforcement,” said Andreas Harsono, a senior Indonesia researcher at the group.

Many hotels, even in tourism areas such as Bali and metropolitan Jakarta, are at risk of losing visitors, he added.

“These laws allow the police to extort bribes, let officials imprison political enemies, for example, with the blasphemy law,” said Harsono.

By NINIEK KARMINI Associated Press


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