INDONESIA – Proposed new criminal code related to sexual relations and much more leads to protest demonstrations

There is bad news from Indonesia. The government has apparently finalised a new criminal code with over 600 clauses that has been in the drafting stage for decades. Clauses related to sexual relations, adultery, sex work, abortion, contraception, blasphemy, and much more are very restrictive and criminalise many new behaviours and people. Abortion would be illegal unless it is a medical emergency or due to rape and would carry a four-year prison sentence. Sex before marriage would be criminalised and could result in a one-year prison term. Living together outside marriage could lead to a six-month prison sentence. Extra-marital sex would be punishable by up to one year in prison. The bill also stipulates new laws on discussions of sex education and contraception. Insulting the president, vice president, religion, state institutions and symbols such as the flag and national anthem would be illegal. The definition of blasphemy is also altered. The bill recognises any “living law”, potentially including hundreds of local sharia or customary laws that discriminate against women, LGBT people and religious minorities. And there is more such as concerns about press freedom, serious problems in West Papua, and the environment.

A coalition of Indonesian rights groups argue the new code violates the rights of women, religious minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, as well as freedom of speech and association. Activists have called on the president to delay the bill for revisions.

According to an ABC News Australia report on 25 September, an anti-corruption law had been passed in the previous week, which led to demonstrations in the streets of Jakarta, which then continued in response to the criminal code bill being tabled. See this video and this BBC report and from 2 October this video.

An article published on 26 September again reported large demonstrations against all these proposed changes, particularly involving students. The president Joko Widodo was apparently ready to put the whole penal code bill through but in the light of the protests, he did postpone and said the situation needed to be reviewed. Indonesia’s Security Minister urged students to end their demonstrations, also saying the bill had been postponed. And in the past 2-3 days more articles report continuing demonstrations, with some 300 people hurt and one student who died after police shot him in the chest. Apparently as many as 100 members of the parliament who were previously activists have failed to speak out against the proposed reforms.

SOURCE: Guardian, by Kate Lamb, 26 September 2019 ; Guardian, by Kate Lamb, 19 September 2019 ; PHOTO: Ed Wray/Getty Images ; Al Jazeera, 1 October 2019