Indonesia’s Parliament has passed a long-awaited and controversial revision of its penal code that criminalizes extramarital sex and applies to citizens and visiting foreigners. A parliamentary task force finalized the bill in November, and lawmakers unanimously approved it Tuesday.
After ratification, the president must sign the new criminal code, according to Deputy Minister of Law and Human Rights Edward Hiariej. The criminal code will not apply immediately, but it takes three years to transition from the old code to the new one.
“That (the new Criminal Code) has a lot of implementing regulations that must be worked out, so it’s impossible in one year, but remember the maximum (transition period) is three years,” Hiariej said.
A copy of the amended criminal code obtained by The Associated Press includes several revised articles that make sex outside marriage punishable by a year in jail and cohabitation by six months. Still, adultery charges must be based on police reports lodged by their spouse, parents or children.
It also says the promotion of contraception and religious blasphemy is illegal, and it restores a ban on insulting a sitting president and vice president, state institutions and national ideology. Insults to a sitting president must be reported by the president and can lead to up to three years in jail.
Hiariej said the government provided “the strictest possible explanation that distinguishes between insults and criticism.”
The code maintains that abortion is a crime. Still, it adds exceptions for women with life-threatening medical conditions and rape, provided that the fetus is less than 12 weeks old, in line with what is already regulated in the 2004 Medical Practice Law.
Rights groups criticized some proposed revisions as overly broad or vague. They warned that rushing them into the new criminal code could penalize normal activities and threaten freedom of expression and privacy rights.
However, some advocates hailed it as a victory for the country’s LGBTQ minority. During a fierce deliberation session, lawmakers eventually agreed to repeal an article proposed by Islamic groups that would have made gay sex illegal.
The code would also preserve the death penalty within the criminal justice system despite calls from the National Commission on Human Rights and other groups to abolish capital punishment, as dozens of other countries have done.
The penal code had languished for decades while legislators in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority nation struggled to adapt its native culture and norms to the criminal code, a living legacy of the Dutch colonial administration.
A previous bill was poised for passage in 2019. Still, President Joko Widodo urged lawmakers to delay a vote on the bill amid mounting public criticism that led to nationwide protests when tens of thousands of people took to the streets. Opponents had said it lacked transparency in the law-making process and contained articles that discriminate against minorities. Widodo had instructed Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly to get input from various communities while lawmakers discussed the articles.
The new code says the death penalty is imposed alternatively with a probationary period. This means a judge cannot immediately impose a death sentence. If within 10 years, the convict behaves well, the death penalty is changed to life imprisonment or 20 years imprisonment.
The code also expands the current Blasphemy Law. It maintains a five-year prison term for deviations from the central tenets of Indonesia’s six recognized religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism. Citizens could face a 10-year sentence under the bill for associating with organizations that follow Marxist-Leninist ideology and a four-year sentence for spreading communism.
Human Rights Watch said Tuesday that laws penalizing criticism of public leaders are contrary to international law. The fact that some forms of expression are insulting is insufficient to justify restrictions or penalties.
“The danger of oppressive laws is not that they’ll be broadly applied; they provide an avenue for selective enforcement,” said Andreas Harsono, a senior Indonesia researcher at the group.
He added that many hotels, including in tourist areas like Bali and metropolitan Jakarta, will risk losing their visitors.
“These laws let police extort bribes, let officials jail political foes, for instance, with the blasphemy law,” Harsono said.
Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous nation and the third largest democracy is an outpost of democracy in a Southeast Asian neighbourhood of authoritarian governments.