On Tuesday December 6th, Indonesia’s Parliament passed new laws that ban cohabitation and sex outside marriage. The laws apply to nationals, foreign residents and tourists in the country. Indonesian President Joko Widodo had urged Parliament to pass the bill this year, before the country’s political climate heats up ahead of presidential elections scheduled for early 2024.
Critics say the controversial new Penal Code is a further setback for civil liberties in the world’s third-largest democracy. According to CNN, the new laws are the result of a rising religious conservatism in the country, with parts of the country enforcing strict Islamic codes. In Bali, however, the majority of the population is Hindu, which in turn has resulted in a a more liberal social environment.
This law will be very counterproductive for the tourism industry in Bali.Putu Winastra, Association of Indonesian Travel Agencies
Under the new laws, anyone caught engaging in extramarital sex will face up to one year in jail. Cohabitation before marriage will also be outlawed, although only close relatives will be able to report those caught cohabiting or having sex outside marriage.
The criminalization of extramarital sex also affects the LGBT community, as same-sex marriage is illegal in the country. The police have previously arrested dozens of homosexuals for violating an anti-pornography law, but from now on all homosexual couples living together are exposed to possible arrest.
Insulting the president and state institutions, having an abortion (except in the case of rape victims), and the practice of black magic will also be illegal in the Muslim-majority country. Blasphemy laws were also expanded from one to six articles, and now include for the first time apostasy, or renunciation of one’s religion.
Regarding blasphemy, the five-year prison sentence for deviations from the central tenets of Indonesia’s six recognized religions – Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism – is retained. Under the new bill, citizens could be sentenced to 10 years in prison for associating with organizations that follow Marxist-Leninist ideology, and four years for spreading communism.
The new legislation raises some major concerns, given that Indonesia, especially Bali, is a coveted vacation destination for thousands of foreigners. The legislative changes will not be implemented immediately as the transition could take up to three years to complete.
“From our point of view as tourism industry players, this law will be very counterproductive for the tourism industry in Bali, particularly the chapters about sex and marriage,” Putu Winastra, chairman of the Association of The Indonesian Tours And Travel Agencies (ASITA) told CNN.
Reacting to the new Penal Code, Human Rights Watch said it “fails to meet international human rights standards” as it violates the rights of many Indonesians, including women, religious minorities and the LGBTI community, and curtails freedom of expression.
Just weeks after Indonesia successfully chaired the G20 Summit, which elevated its position on the world stage, business representatives say the draft code sends the wrong message about Southeast Asia’s largest economy.
An earlier bill was on the verge of being passed in 2019, but President Widodo urged parliamentarians to delay a vote on the text amid mounting public criticism that led to nationwide protests as tens of thousands of people took to the streets. Opponents denounced the lack of transparency in the legislative process and the existence of discriminatory articles against minorities.
The current penal code, which dates back to 1918, during the Dutch colonial period, was codified and unified in 1946, following Indonesia’s independence. It is based on the civil law system and is a mixture of Dutch law, customary law known as Hukum adat, and modern Indonesian law, which has been added to over the years. As a result of changes made to the current code and additions to bills relating to specific areas of law, many of the articles in the current code overlap or are contradictory.
The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) has forecast annual growth of 10% for Indonesia’s travel industry over the next 10 years. According to the WTTC’s calculations, the sector would contribute nearly $118 billion dollars to the country’s GDP, creating more than 500,000 jobs each year for the next decade.