Indonesia | President delays draconian extramarital sex ban

Caning is already one of the penalties for homosexuality in the Indonesia province of Aceh

Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, has delayed the ratification of a controversial new penal code that would criminalise sex outside of marriage, including sex between LGBTQ people.

Widodo announced the unexpected move on Friday, in the wake of international condemnation of the draconian changes to the criminal code which would further undermine human rights in the world’s largest Muslim nation.

“I have ordered the law and human rights minister to convey this decision to parliament, to delay the confirmation of the criminal code bill,” said the president. He explained that the bill will be reviewed once again in response to objections to the draft law.

One of the bill’s provisions would punish extramarital sex by up to one year in jail, effectively criminalising all same-sex conduct (same-sex marriage is not legal in the country). The ban would also affect foreign couples visiting Indonesia and they could be arrested if they failed to present proof of marriage.

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), another provision criminalises “obscene acts” in public with a penalty of up to six months in prison and could be used to target LGBTQ people.

And while homosexuality is not currently illegal under national laws, the new penal code would recognise existing local customary and Sharia (Islamic) laws that do penalise same-sex conduct and discriminate against women and religious minorities.

The bill would further censor the dissemination of information about contraception, criminalise some abortions and would expand Indonesia’s 1965 Blasphemy Law. It is feared that restricting access to and information about condoms, for example, would hamper the fight against the spread of HIV.

Updating Indonesia’s criminal code, which dates back to the Dutch colonial era, has taken more than two decades. On September 15, a parliamentary task force finalised the bill. The House of Representatives was expected to vote on the legislation this month.

HRW called on Indonesia to substantially revise the proposed law to meet international human rights standards.

“Indonesia’s draft criminal code is disastrous not only for women and religious and gender minorities but for all Indonesians,” said Andreas Harsono, HRW senior Indonesia researcher. “Lawmakers should remove all the abusive articles before passing the law.”

Homosexuality is technically legal in most of Indonesia, except in the province of Aceh, where penalties for Muslims in the province include public floggings and fines.

Over the last few years, Indonesia has dramatically reversed its general tolerance towards LGBTQ people, taking on a more radical Islamic approach to sexuality and gender identity.

LGBTQ people are routinely discriminated against, abused and arrested, often under the country’s anti-pornography laws. Emboldened morality police have raided private residences and businesses, while the government has moved to censor LGBTQ expression and representation in the media.

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