- The new Criminal Code brings controversial changes
- Sex outside of marriage, insulting the President forbidden
- New laws will hamper tourism and investment, critics say
JAKARTA, Dec 6 (Reuters) – Indonesia’s parliament on Tuesday passed a new penal code banning sex outside of marriage with a penalty of up to a year in prison, despite fears the laws will deter tourists from its tropical shores and investments could hurt.
The new law, which will apply to Indonesians and foreigners alike, also prohibits cohabitation between unmarried couples. It will also ban insulting the President or state institutions, disseminating views contrary to state ideology, and staging protests without notice.
The laws were passed with the support of all political parties.
However, the Code will only enter into force for three years to allow for the drafting of implementing regulations.
Currently, Indonesia bans adultery but not premarital sex.
Maulana Yusran, deputy head of Indonesia’s Tourism Industry Committee, said the new code was “entirely counterproductive” at a time when the economy and tourism were beginning to recover from the pandemic.
“We deeply regret that the government has closed its eyes. We have already expressed our concern to the Ministry of Tourism about how harmful this law is,” he said.
Foreign arrivals in the holiday destination of Bali are expected to reach pre-pandemic levels of six million by 2025, the tourism board said earlier, as the island recovers from the effects of COVID-19.
Indonesia is also trying to attract more so-called “digital nomads” to its tropical shores by offering a more flexible visa.
Speaking at an investment summit, US Ambassador to Indonesia Sung Kim said the news could lead to reduced foreign investment, tourism and travel to the Southeast Asian nation.
“The criminalization of individuals’ personal choices would play a large role in the decision matrix of many companies deciding whether to invest in Indonesia,” he said.
Albert Aries, a spokesman for Indonesia’s Justice Ministry, said the new laws regulating morality are restricted by who can report them, such as parents, spouses or children of suspected criminals.
“The goal is to protect the institution of marriage and Indonesian values while protecting the privacy of the community and also negating the right of the public or any third party to report this matter or play ‘judge’ in the name of morality “, he said.
These laws are part of a series of legislative changes that critics say are undermining civil liberties in the world’s third-largest democracy. Other laws include prohibitions on black magic.
“ONE DEATH TO INDONESIA’S DEMOCRACY”
Editorials in national newspapers condemned the new laws, with daily Koran Tempo saying the code had “authoritarian” tones, while the Jakarta Post said it had “serious concerns” about its application.
After decades of preparation, lawmakers hailed passage of the Penal Code as a much-needed overhaul of a colonial holdover.
“The old code is part of the Dutch heritage … and is now irrelevant,” Bambang Wuryanto, head of the parliamentary commission responsible for revising the code, told lawmakers.
Opponents of the bill have highlighted articles they say restrict freedom of expression and represent a “major setback” in ensuring democratic freedoms are upheld after the 1998 ouster of authoritarian leader Suharto.
“This is not just a setback, it is a death for Indonesian democracy,” said Citra Referandum, a lawyer with the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute. “The process was not democratic at all.”
Responding to the criticism, Indonesia’s Minister of Justice and Human Rights, Yasonna Laoly, told parliament: “It is not easy for a multicultural and multiethnic country to enact a penal code that serves all interests.”
Legal experts say a common law article could reinforce discriminatory and Sharia-inspired regulations at the local level and pose a particular threat to LGBT people.
“In conservative areas there will be regulations that are not consistent with human rights principles,” said Bivitri Susanti of Indonesia’s Jentera School of Law, referring to existing regulations in some regions that impose curfews on women or aim to what as “deviant” sexualities.
The new laws also provide for lighter penalties for corruption allegations.
The morality allegations have been partially watered down from an earlier version of the bill, allowing only limited parties such as spouses, parents or children to report them.
The government had planned to pass a revision of the country’s colonial-era penal code in 2019, but nationwide protests halted its passage.
Lawmakers have since watered down some of the provisions, with President Joko Widodo urging parliament to pass the law later this year before the country’s political climate heats up ahead of presidential elections scheduled for early 2024.
Public reaction to the new code has been muted so far, with only small protests in the capital on Monday and Tuesday.
Reporting by Ananda Teresa; writing by Kate Lamb; Edited by Ed Davies and Raju Gopalakrishnan
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