By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
JAKARTA (Worthy News) – Indonesia’s parliament has approved legislation that bans anyone from having extramarital sex and restricts political freedoms in the world’s largest Muslim nation.
Sex outside marriage will carry a jail term of up to a year, which take effect in three years, the legislators decided.
Tuesday’s vote came despite protests and amid fears it could harm tourism at a time when the country is struggling to overcome the coronavirus pandemic and natural disasters.
The legislation is part of several legal changes that critics say undermine civil liberties in the third-largest democracy. Other laws include bans on black magic.
Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, residents in Bali, the tropical island known for its tourism industry, complained to Worthy News about what they view as the central government’s interference in their daily affairs.
A bartender at one of Bali’s oldest jazz clubs in the city of Denpasar. “Let President Joko Widodo stay in Jakarta. We can run our affairs,” he said.
“This will break the tourism industry because many foreigners don’t have marriage relationships,” predicted Victoria, a Christian entrepreneur. “I fear there will be a lot of protests. We can discuss whether sex outside marriage is good or bad. But the legislators are now pushing the Muslim laws onto people with different backgrounds.”
PROTESTS BREAK OUT
Several groups of mainly young people protested against the legislation outside Parliament in Jakarta, the nation’s capital. Observers said the new laws would be likely challenged in court.
They apply equally to locals and to foreigners living in Indonesia or visiting holiday destinations such as Bali. Under the laws, unmarried couples caught having sex can be jailed for up to a year.
They are also banned from living together – an act for which people could be jailed for up to six months. Adultery will also be an offense for which people can be jailed.
Supporters of the legislation say changes are needed to defend the traditional Indonesian values of the nation. They also point out that for prosecutions to start, a complaint must be filed by the children, parents, or spouse of the accused couple.
“The aim is to protect the institution of marriage and Indonesian values,” said Albert Aries, a spokesperson for Indonesia’s justice ministry.
Currently, Indonesia bans adultery but not premarital sex.
Politicians said the passage of the new criminal code was a much-needed overhaul of a colonial relic. “The old code belongs to Dutch heritage … and is no longer relevant now,” said Bambang Wuryanto, head of the parliamentary commission in charge of revising the code.
Several Indonesian newspapers condemned the vote on Tuesday. Opponents of the bill also said it would represent a “huge setback” in ensuring the retention of democratic freedoms after the fall of authoritarian leader Suharto in 1998.
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