Indonesia set to penalise sex outside marriage in overhaul of criminal code

The Muslim country will ban unwed people from cohabiting as part of an overhaul of its criminal code

Reuters December 02, 2022
Plaintiffs hold hands each other after a district court ruled on the legality of same-sex marriages outside Sapporo district court in Sapporo, Hokkaido, northern Japan March 17, 2021, in this photo taken by Kyodo. PHOTO: REUTERS


Indonesia's parliament is expected to pass a new criminal code that will penalise sex outside marriage with a punishment of up to one year in jail.

The legislative overhaul will also ban insulting the president or state institutions and expressing views counter to Indonesia's state ideology.

Cohabitation before marriage will also be banned.

Decades in the making, the new criminal code is expected to be passed on 15 December, Indonesia's deputy justice minister Edward Omar Sharif Hiariej told Reuters.

"We're proud to have a criminal code that's in line with Indonesian values," he said.

Bambang Wuryanto, a lawmaker involved in the draft, said the new code could be passed as early as next week.

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The code would apply to Indonesian citizens and foreigners, with business groups expressing concern about what damage the rules might cause to Indonesia's image as a holiday and investment destination.

The draft has the support of some Islamic groups in a country where conservatism is on the rise, although opponents argue it reverses liberal reforms enacted after the 1998 fall of authoritarian leader Suharto.

A previous draft of the code was set to be passed in 2019 but sparked nationwide protests.

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated at the time against a raft of laws, especially those seen to regulate morality and free speech, which they said would curtail civil liberties.

Critics say minimal changes to the code have been made since then, although the government has held public consultations to provide information about the changes.

Changes that have been made include a provision that could allow the death penalty to be commuted to life imprisonment after 10 years of good behaviour.

The criminalisation of abortion, with the exception of rape victims, and imprisonment for "black magic" remain in the code.

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According to the latest draft dated 24 November, seen by Reuters, sex outside marriage, which can only be reported by limited parties such as close relatives, carries a maximum one-year prison sentence.

Insulting the president, a charge that can only be reported by the president carries a maximum of three years.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation, has hundreds of regulations at the local level that discriminate against women, religious minorities and LGBTQI people.

Just weeks after Indonesia chaired a successful Group of Twenty (G20) meeting that saw its position elevated on the global stage, business sector representatives say the draft code sends the wrong message about Southeast Asia's largest economy.

"For the business sector, the implementation of this customary law shall create legal uncertainty and make investors re-consider investing in Indonesia," Indonesia's Employers' Association deputy chair Shinta Widjaja Sukamdani said.

She said clauses related to morality would "do more harm than good", especially for businesses engaged in the tourism and hospitality sectors.

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The changes to the code would be a "huge setback to Indonesian democracy", Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch said.

The deputy justice minister dismissed the criticism, saying the final version of the draft would ensure that regional laws adhered to national legislation and the new code would not threaten democratic freedoms.

A revised version of the criminal code has been discussed since Indonesia declared its independence from the Dutch in 1945.


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