A new criminal code that restricts political freedoms and outlaws extramarital sex has been approved by Indonesia’s parliament.
According to the new laws, which go into effect in three years, having sex outside of marriage can result in a jail sentence of up to a year.
The numerous changes follow a rise in religious conservatism in a nation with a majority of Muslims.
The laws are criticized as a “disaster” for human rights and as a possible hindrance to travel and investment.
This week, a number of mostly young people’s groups demonstrated against the legislation in front of the Jakarta parliament. It is anticipated that the new laws will face legal challenges.
Both locals and foreigners living in Indonesia or traveling to vacation spots like Bali must abide by them. According to the law, unmarried couples who are caught having sex face up to a year in jail.
They are also forbidden from cohabitating, a crime punishable by up to six months in jail. Adultery is a crime for which people are subject to incarceration.
In order for prosecutions to begin, a complaint must be made by the children, parents, or spouse of the accused couple, according to supporters of the legislation.
Ajeng, a 28-year-old Muslim woman who lives in Depok, West Java, claimed that because she has been cohabitating with her partner for the past five years, she is now in danger.
She told the BBC that, according to the new law, if one of the family members decides to contact the police, both of us could face jail time.
“What if one family member decides to put me in jail because they don’t like me?”
“In my opinion, cohabitation and extramarital sex are not illegal.” It is regarded as a sin in my religion. However, I disagree that the law should be based on a particular faith.
She claimed that when the law was first brought up in 2019, she participated in the widespread demonstrations. “For the right to cuddle, I took to the streets,” she read from the sign.
However, the new code of over 600 articles was unanimously approved by parliament on Tuesday.
Many businesses had also opposed the law, claiming that it discouraged investment and tourism. However, lawmakers have praised the revision of laws that date back to Dutch colonial rule.
Yasonna Laoly, the law minister, told the legislature, “It is time for us to make a historical decision on the penal code amendment and to leave the colonial criminal code we inherited behind.”
Numerous new provisions in the new legislation criminalize immorality and blasphemy while limiting freedom of speech in politics and religion.
Elaine Pearson, the director of Human Rights Watch in Asia, told the BBC that it was a “huge setback for a country that has tried to portray itself as a modern Muslim democracy.”
According to Andreas Harsano, a researcher for the Jakarta-based organization, millions of Indonesian couples do not have marriage licenses, “particularly among Indigenous peoples or Muslims in rural areas” who marry according to religious rituals.
He told the BBC that since living together could result in a prison sentence of up to six months, “these people will theoretically be breaking the law.”
Research from the Gulf states, where similar laws regarding sex and relationships exist, further demonstrated that women were punished and targeted by such morality laws more than men.
The code now contains six blasphemy laws, including one for apostasy, which is the rejection of a religion. For the first time since gaining independence, Indonesia will outlaw persuading people to reject their religion.
Additionally, new defamation laws make it unlawful to disparage the president or state ideology.
However, lawmakers claimed that they had expanded protections for free speech and “public interest” protests.
Indonesia is not a secular state. Atheism is unacceptable; you must adhere to one of the six official religions. It is a multireligious state with Pancasila as its official ideology, which places no one faith above any other. Sukarno, the leader of Indonesia after independence, came up with a plan to prevent large regions of the archipelago where Muslims are not the majority from seceding.
However, since the overthrow of his successor, Suharto, who ruthlessly repressed political Islamic organizations, there has been a growing mobilization around Islamic values, a perception that Islam is under attack from outside forces, and a rise in conservatism in many regions of Java, where more than half of Indonesia’s population resides. Political parties have reacted to this by calling for stricter laws to enforce morality.
Despite coming from a syncretic Javanese tradition that follows a more tolerant interpretation of Islam, the current leader, Joko Widodo, is more concerned with preserving his legacy of economic growth than with tolerance and liberal principles. He has demonstrated that he is willing to give hardline Muslims some of what they want, for instance, by imprisoning former Jakarta governor Ahok on blasphemy charges.
At the conclusion of his second term, Jokowi will have vacated the presidency by the time the new code goes into effect.
Since the country of 267 million people transitioned to democracy in 1998, strict laws on relationships and sex based on religion have been enacted in some regions.
The Aceh province already imposes strict Islamic law and has penalized individuals who partake in gambling, consume alcohol, or interact with people of the opposite sex.
In Indonesia, a lot of civil Islamic organizations have been campaigning for more power to influence politics recently.
A previous version of the code was scheduled to be adopted in 2019, but it was met with widespread opposition, with tens of thousands of people participating in protests.
Students among those who took to the streets in Jakarta clashed with police.
Many Indonesians protested in 2019, according to Ajeng, even though they were not subject to the law, because “people don’t want their taxes to be used to send people to jail just for sex.”
People are irate because their liberties are being violated. Indonesia faces many issues, including poverty, climate change, and corruption, but instead of finding a solution, lawmakers have come up with legislation that makes matters worse.