Govt set to pass new criminal code

Fighting for their freedom: People holding up a banner during a protest against Indonesia’s impending move to pass a new criminal code that will ban sex outside marriage, cohabitation between unmarried couples, insulting the president, and expressing views counter to the national ideology, outside the Indonesian Parliament buildings in Jakarta. — Reuters

The country is expected to ratify sweeping changes to its criminal code today, senior officials confirmed, in a legal overhaul that critics say could curb freedoms and police morality in the South-East Asian nation.

Among the most controversial revisions to the code are articles that would penalise sex outside of marriage with up to one year in jail and prohibit cohabitation between unmarried couples. Insulting the president and spreading views counter to the secular national ideology, known as the Pancasila, will also be outlawed.

Legal experts and civil society groups say such changes to the penal code are a “huge setback” for the world’s third-largest democracy.

“The state cannot manage morality. The government’s duty is not as an umpire between conservative and liberal Indonesia,” said Bivitri Susanti, a law expert from the Indonesia Jentera School of Law.

Indonesia’s population is predominantly Muslim and has sizeable groups of Hindus, Christians and people of other faiths.

Most Indonesian Muslims practice a moderate version of Islam, but recent years have seen a rise in religious conservatism that has crept into politics.

Deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, Sufmi Dasco Ahmad and Bambang Wuryanto, head of the parliamentary commission overseeing the revision, said that parliament would hold a plenary session today to ratify the new code.

Decades in the making, the revision of the country’s colonial-era penal code has sparked mass protests in recent years, although the response has been considerably more muted this year.

Daniel Winarta, a University of Indonesia student, was among a small crowd of protesters that gathered outside parliament in Jakarta yesterday.

“On cohabitation, for example, it’s clearly a private matter,” he said.

“We will keep rejecting this.”

Parliament had planned to ratify a draft new code in September 2019, but nationwide demonstrations over perceived threats to civil liberties halted its passage.

Legislators have since watered down some of the articles deemed most contentious.

The latest articles on sex outside marriage and cohabitation state such complaints can only be reported by close relatives such as a spouse, parent or child. Meanwhile, only the president can file a complaint about being insulted, but such a crime will carry a three-year jail sentence.

Articles on customary law, blasphemy, protesting without notification and spreading views divergent from the Pancasila were all legally problematic because they could be widely interpreted, Bivitri said.

Once ratified, the new code will come into effect in three years’ time as the government and related institutions draft related implementing regulations. — Reuters

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