JAKARTA – Calls from religious conservatives to outlaw gay and extramarital sex in Indonesia continued to gain traction on Tuesday, as politicians debate a series of reforms to the criminal code that would outlaw homosexual activity and limit sexual freedoms, which activists and NGOs say represent a threat to Indonesians’ fundamental rights.
As well as prescribing jail terms of up to nine years for homosexual acts, the proposed reform would criminalize people living together without being married, sex education and the distribution of contraceptives, critics say.
Feminists, anti-corruption lawyers, pro-independence Papuans, and homosexual activists, among others, gathered for a demonstration in Jakarta last week while the draft bill was being debated in Parliament.
“People think that banning sex outside marriage on moral grounds will affect only a few. They are not aware that Indonesia is a very complex country,” founder and chairperson of the Support Group and Resource Center on Sexuality Studies (SGRC), Ferena Debineva, told EFE.
The proposed reform to the Indonesian Penal Code would be the first since it was introduced by the Dutch in 1918.
Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population, with nearly 88 percent of its over 260 million inhabitants devoted to Islam, most of whom practice a moderate form of the religion, although there has been a rise in Islamist radicalism in recent years.
A survey by Saiful Mujani Research and Consulting released in late January revealed that nearly 90 percent of Indonesians, including non-Muslims, consider the LGBT community as a threat.
Naila Zakiah, Public Defender, LBH Masyarakat (Community Legal Aid Institute), said that if the Penal Code were approved under the current conditions, “people would think twice before having sex.”
During a conference last Wednesday on the reforms, Zakiah said that article 469 would criminalize “indecent acts” among homosexuals with a maximum of 9 years in prison, according to the latest version of the draft.
As well as these amendments, the document also increases the penalties for adultery, which is already punishable in Indonesia with up to 9 months in prison.
Zakia warned that “if the law is implemented, more women would marry their rapists,” and more rape victims would not report the crime for fear of being found guilty of having pre-marital sex.
The reform would lead to an increase in unwanted pregnancies, a higher death rate among pregnant women, more child marriages and a higher prevalence of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, Zakia added.
The operational director of the Institute for Reform of Criminal Justice (ICJR), Erasmus Napitupulu, said that the proponents of the reform would “trying to limit freedom of expression in Indonesia” by falsely accusing people of defamation.
Napitupulu said that of 1,251 articles in the draft, 1,198 impose prison as a primary punishment, a punitive approach that would further overload the already overcrowded Indonesian prisons.
Although Napitupulu said that the articles that provide for two years and six months jail term for adultery and living together without being married, respectively, have already been approved and closed, sources involved in debating and implementing the reform say they could still be discussed.
Andri Gunawan, lawmaker Arsul Sani’s assistant, told EFE that the new Criminal Code must be approved before the 2019 elections or the debate would start again during the next presidential term.