The government of Indonesia approved a new criminal code, banning s*ex outside marriage with a punishment of up to one year in prison.
The new code, which will apply to Indonesians and foreigners alike, also prohibits cohabitation between unmarried couples. It will also ban insulting the president or state institutions, spreading views counter to the state ideology, and staging protests without notification.
The laws were passed with support from all political parties. However, the code will not come into effect for three years to allow for implementing regulations to be drafted. Currently, Indonesia bans adultery but not premarital sex. Maulana Yusran, deputy chief of Indonesia’s tourism industry board, said the new code was “totally counter-productive” at a time when the economy and tourism were starting to recover from the pandemic.
“We deeply regret the government has closed its eyes. We have already expressed our concern to the ministry of tourism about how harmful this law is,” he said.
Foreign arrivals in the holiday destination of Bali are expected to reach pre-pandemic levels of six million by 2025, the tourism association has said previously, as the island recovers from the impacts of Covid-19. Indonesia is also trying to attract more so-called “digital nomads” to its tropical shores by offering a more flexible visa. Speaking at an investment summit, US Ambassador to Indonesia Sung Kim said the news could result in less foreign investment, tourism, and travel to the Southeast Asian nation.
“Criminalising the personal decisions of individuals would loom large within the decision matrix of many companies determining whether to invest in Indonesia,” he said.
Albert Aries, a spokesperson for Indonesia’s justice ministry, said the new laws regulating morality were limited by who could report them, such as a parent, spouse or child of suspected offenders.
“The aim is to protect the institution of marriage and Indonesian values, 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,” he said.
These laws are part of a raft of legal changes that critics say undermine civil liberties in the world’s third-largest democracy. Other laws include bans on black magic. According to the latest draft dated 24 November, seen by Reuters, sex outside marriage, which can only be reported by limited parties such as close relatives, carries a maximum one-year prison sentence.
Insulting the president, a charge that can only be reported by the president carries a maximum of three years. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, has hundreds of regulations at the local level that discriminate against women, religious minorities and LGBTQI people.
Just weeks after Indonesia chaired a successful Group of Twenty (G20) meeting that saw its position elevated on the global stage, business sector representatives say the draft code sends the wrong message about Southeast Asia’s largest economy.
“For the business sector, the implementation of this customary law shall create legal uncertainty and make investors re-consider investing in Indonesia,” Indonesia’s Employers’ Association deputy chair Shinta Widjaja Sukamdani said.
She said clauses related to morality would “do more harm than good”, especially for businesses engaged in the tourism and hospitality sectors. The changes to the code would be a “huge setback to Indonesian democracy”, Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch said.
The deputy justice minister dismissed the criticism, saying the final version of the draft would ensure that regional laws adhered to national legislation and the new code would not threaten democratic freedoms.
A revised version of the criminal code has been discussed since Indonesia declared its independence from the Dutch in 1945.