On Tuesday, Indonesia’s parliament approved criminal code that bans anyone in the country from having extramarital sex and restricts political freedoms adding that sex outside marriage will attract a punishment of up to one year in jail.
This comes after a rise in religious conservatism in the Muslim-majority country. Critics see the laws as a “disaster” for human rights, and a potential blow to tourism and investment.
Several groups of mainly young people protested against the legislation outside parliament in Jakarta this week. It is expected the new laws will be challenged in court.
The new code, which will apply to Indonesians and foreigners alike, also prohibits cohabitation between unmarried couples. It was passed with support from all political parties. However, the code will not come into effect until after three years to allow for the implementation of the regulations to be drafted.
The new criminal code replaces a framework that had been in use since independence in 1946 and was a mix of Dutch law, customary law known as hukum adat, and modern Indonesian law.
Maulana Yusran, deputy chief of Indonesia’s tourism industry board, said the new code was “totally counter-productive” when the economy and tourism started recovering from the pandemic. “We deeply regret that the government has closed its eyes,” he said. “We have already expressed our concern to the ministry of tourism about how h@rmful this law is.”
Many businesses had also been opposed to the legislation, saying it discouraged visitors and investment. But lawmakers have celebrated overhauling laws dating back to Dutch colonial rule.
“It is time for us to make a historical decision on the penal code amendment and to leave the colonial criminal code we inherited behind,” law minister Yasonna Laoly told parliament.
Speaking at an investment summit, U.S. 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.
However, this new criminal code has sparked protest by Indonesians with some calling for a review of the law.