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Indonesia passes legislation outlawing sex outside marriage

Indonesia’s parliament has approved a controversial new criminal code that bans both locals and foreigners from extramarital sex. Critics view the move as a ‘disaster’ for human rights, and a potential blow to the country’s booming tourism sector.

Following years of parliamentary discussions and heated public debate, Indonesia has just passed a controversial new criminal code that critics say is a dramatic setback to freedoms in the world’s third-largest democracy.

Under the draconian legislation, parents, children, or spouses will be able to report unmarried couples to the police if they suspect them of having sex outside wedlock.

If those reported are found guilty, they will face punishment of up to twelve months in prison.

‘The aim is to protect the institution of marriage and Indonesian values,’ said Albert Aries, a spokesperson for Indonesia’s justice ministry, at the time of the announcement.

‘While at the same time being able to protect the privacy of the community and also negate the rights of the public or other third parties to report this matter or ‘playing judge’ on behalf of morality.’

The move, which many deem a nod to moral policing, underscores the increasing conservatism of a country long hailed for its religious tolerance, with secularism enshrined in its constitution.

There are also fears that it could be used to target members of the LGBTQ+ community, given that public flogging already takes place in the region for a range of offences including homosexuality and adultery.

A previous draft was set to be passed in 2019 but the vote was postponed after thousands of protesters, mostly students, took to the streets demanding the government withdraw it.

‘What we’re witnessing is a significant blow to Indonesia’s hard-won progress in protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms after the 1998 revolution,’ says Amnesty International Indonesia director, Usman Hamid, who believes the expansions on existing laws will have a ‘chilling effect’ on free speech.

‘We’re going backwards. Repressive laws should have been abolished but the bill shows that the arguments of scholars abroad are true, that our democracy is indisputably in decline.’

Cohabitation between unmarried couples will also be made illegal in the Muslim-majority nation, as well as insulting the president, abortion except for rape victims, practicing black magic, spreading views counter to the state ideology, and staging protests without notification.

The criminal code will apply to both locals and foreigners. It will not, however, come into effect for three years to allow, for implementing regulations to be adequately drafted.

Approved unanimously by all political parties on Tuesday, the reforms have shocked not only activists – who consider it a ‘disaster’ for human rights – but also Indonesia’s booming tourism sector, which relies on millions of visitors to its tropical islands annually.

In 2019, a record 1.23 million Australian tourists visited Bali, according to the Indonesia Institute, a Perth-based non-government organisation. Compare that to 2021 – when just 51 foreign tourists visited the island for the entire year because of the pandemic, Statistica’s records show.

‘This is totally counterproductive at a time when the economy is starting to recover from the impacts of COVID-19,’ says Maulana Yusran, deputy chief of Indonesia’s tourism industry board.

‘We deeply regret the government have closed their eyes. We have already expressed our concern to the ministry of tourism about how harmful this law is.’