Indonesia plans to pass new penal code banning sex outside of marriage

JAKARTA, Dec 5 (Reuters) – Indonesia is expected to ratify sweeping changes to its penal code on Tuesday, top officials confirmed in a legal overhaul critics say could curtail freedoms and police morale in the Southeast Asian nation.

Among the code’s most controversial revisions are articles that would punish extramarital sex with up to a year in prison and ban cohabitation between unmarried couples. Insulting the President and disseminating views against the secular national ideology known as Pancasila will also be banned.

Legal experts and civil society groups say such penal code changes are a “huge setback” for the world’s third-largest democracy.

“The state cannot manage morality. The government’s duty is not to be an arbiter between conservative and liberal Indonesia,” said Bivitri Susanti, a legal expert at Indonesia’s Jentera School of Law.

Indonesia’s population is predominantly Muslim and has sizeable groups of Hindus, Christians and people of other faiths. Most Indonesian Muslims practice a moderate version of Islam, but in recent years there has been a rise in religious conservatism that has crept into politics.

Deputy Speaker of the House Sufmi Dasco Ahmad and Bambang Wuryanto, head of the parliamentary commission overseeing the revision, told Reuters that Parliament will hold a plenary session on Tuesday to ratify the new code.

The decade-long revision of the colonial-era penal code has sparked mass protests in recent years, although the response this year has been far more muted.

Daniel Winarta, a student at the University of Indonesia, was among a small group of protesters who gathered outside Parliament in Jakarta on Monday.

“Living together, for example, is clearly a private matter,” he said. “We will continue to refuse.”

Parliament had planned to ratify a draft new law in September 2019, but nationwide demonstrations over perceived threats to civil liberties prevented its passage.

Legislatures have since watered down some of what were considered the most controversial articles.

The latest articles on sex outside of marriage and cohabitation state that such complaints can only be reported by close relatives such as spouses, parents or children. Now only the President can report insults, but such a crime carries a three-year prison sentence.

Articles on common law, blasphemy, unannounced protests and the propagation of views that differ from the pancasila are all legally problematic because they can be interpreted broadly, Bivitri said.

Once ratified, the new code will come into effect in three years, when the government and related institutions develop related implementing regulations.

Reporting by Yuddy Cahya Budiman, writing by Kate Lamb; Adaptation by Kanupriya Kapoor

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