Indonesia’s parliament has passed a new penal code that makes sex outside of marriage a crime – punishable by up to a year in prison.
It is part of a series of changes that, according to critics, represent a setback in the rights of the population.
The new penal code, which will only come into effect three years from now, also includes a ban on insulting the president and demonstrating against the state’s ideology.
Applicable to both Indonesians and foreigners, the new legislation includes several “morality” laws, which make it illegal for unmarried couples to live together and have sex.
Human rights groups say it disproportionately affects women, LGBT people and ethnic minorities in the country.
Reports of sex outside of marriage can be made by the person’s partner or parents. Adultery will also be a crime for which you can go to prison.
Protesters staged small protests against the new legislation outside parliament in the capital Jakarta this week.
Human rights activists say the new code also inhibits political expression and stifles religious freedom.
There are now six laws against blasphemy in the code, including apostasy — renouncing one’s religion. For the first time since independence, Indonesia will make it illegal to persuade someone to be a nonbeliever.
New anti-defamation articles also make it illegal to insult the president or express opinions against national ideology.
However, lawmakers said they had added protections for free speech and “public interest” protests.
Even so, the organization Human Rights Watch said this Tuesday (06/12) that the norms of the new code were a “disaster” for human rights.
The group’s director for Asia, Elaine Pearson, told the BBC it was a “huge setback for a country that has tried to present itself as a modern Muslim democracy”.
Andreas Harsano, a Jakarta-based researcher for the organization, warned that there were millions of couples in Indonesia without a marriage certificate, “especially among indigenous peoples or Muslims in rural areas”, who were married in specific religious ceremonies.
“These people will theoretically be breaking the law, as living together can be punishable by up to six months in prison,” he told the BBC.
Harsano added that research conducted in the Gulf States, where there are similar laws governing sex and relationships, showed that women were punished more and more targeted by such morality laws than men.
By Jonathan Head, BBC Southeast Asia Correspondent
Indonesia is not a secular state. Atheism is unacceptable — technically, you have to follow one of six recognized religions. Therefore, it is a multi-religious state with an official ideology, Pancasila, which does not prioritize any faith over another.
That was Indonesia’s post-independence leader Sukarno’s idea to discourage large parts of the archipelago, where Muslims are not in the majority, from seceding.
But since the fall of Suharto – who ruthlessly cracked down on Islamist political groups – there has been a growing mobilization around Islamic values, a sense that Islam is threatened by outside influences, and more conservatism in many areas of the island of Java, where most than half of Indonesians live.
Political parties responded to this and demanded tougher laws for the morality police.
The current leader, Jokowi, is from the syncretic Javanese tradition that embraces a looser form of Islam, but his main concern is his legacy of economic development rather than tolerance and liberal values.
He has shown with the arrest of former Jakarta governor Ahok, accused of blasphemy, that he is willing to give radical Muslims a little of what they want.
Indonesia is home to several religions, but most of its 267 million people are Muslim. Since the country’s democratic transition in 1998, the nation has followed a belief known as Pancasila, which does not prioritize any faith but does not accept atheism. However, local law in many regions of the country is based on religious values.
Some parts of Indonesia already have strict laws about sex and relationships based on religion.
Aceh province, for example, enforces strict Islamic laws, punishing people for gambling, alcohol consumption and encounters with members of the opposite sex.
Many Islamic civic groups have been pushing for more influence in public policy-making in Indonesia in recent years.
Lawmakers on Tuesday hailed the passage of the new penal code, which had not been fully revised since Indonesia gained independence from Dutch rule.
An earlier draft of the code was set to pass in 2019, but it sparked protests across the country, with tens of thousands of people taking part in the demonstrations.
Many, including students, took to the streets — and there were clashes with the police in the capital Jakarta.