Indonesian lawmakers on Tuesday approved a sweeping new penal code that criminalizes sexual relations outside of marriage, as part of a tranche of changes which critics say threaten human rights and freedoms in the Southeast Asian country.
The new code, which also applies to foreign residents and tourists, prohibits cohabitation before marriage, apostasy and provides for punishment for insulting the president or expressing opinions contrary to national ideology.
“Everyone agreed to ratify (the preliminary changes) into law,” said lawmaker Bambang Wuryanto, who headed the parliamentary commission charged with revising the colonial-era code. “The old code belongs to the Dutch heritage… and is no longer relevant.”
The world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, Indonesia, has seen a rise in religious conservatism in recent years. Strict Islamic laws already apply in parts of the country, including the semi-autonomous province of Aceh, where alcohol and gambling are prohibited. Public floggings also take place in the region for a variety of crimes including homosexuality and adultery.
An earlier draft of the code was scheduled for approval in 2019, but was Postponed after nationwide protests prompted Indonesian President Joko Widodo to intervene. In a televised speech at the time, Widodo said he decided to delay the vote after “seriously considering comments from different parties who object to some substantial content of the penal code.”
In the run-up to Tuesday’s vote, human rights groups and critics warned that the new code will “disproportionately affect women” and further reduce human rights and freedoms in the country of more than 270 million. of people.
Human Rights Watch Indonesia researcher Andreas Harsono said the laws are “a setback for Indonesia’s already declining religious freedom,” warning that “non-believers could be prosecuted and imprisoned.”
“The danger of oppressive laws is not that they are broadly enforced, but that they provide an avenue for selective enforcement,” he said.
Under the laws, sexual relations outside of marriage carry a possible prison sentence of one year, and the crime of blasphemy, already on Indonesia’s books, could now lead to a prison sentence of five years.
Hadi Rahmat Purnama, from the University of Indonesia’s law school, said the laws will be implemented after a three-year transition period.
This is a developing story. More to come.
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