Indonesian rights alliance wants public input on criminal code bill

Dandy Koswaraputra
Indonesian rights alliance wants public input on criminal code bill Indonesian student protesters try to flee as police fire tear gas outside the parliament building in Jakarta during a demonstration against the government’s proposed change in its criminal code, Sept. 24, 2019.
Adek Berry/AFP

Concern is growing among activists about a pending reform of the Indonesian criminal code that could outlaw gay sex and criminalize insulting the government.

The draft bill has not been made public, but the Law and Human Rights Ministry on Wednesday confirmed that it includes a provision on insulting the government. A lawmaker last month said that the bill would outlaw sex outside marriage, including same-sex behavior.

The National Alliance for Penal Code Reform, representing several rights groups, accused the government of pushing for the bill’s passage without seeking enough public comment.

“The alliance calls on the President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo administration and the House of Representatives to conduct open discussions on the bill and not to pass it without meaningful public participation,” the alliance said in a statement.

The administration has identified 14 articles for discussion because of public concern, but the alliance said its objections went beyond those articles.

“The Alliance believe more than 14 are problematic articles, but those have not been discussed by the government, especially those related to freedom of expression and opinion,” the statement said.

Issues of concern include punishments for insulting public authorities and state institutions online, a portion of the bill that could overlap with the information and electronic transaction law, already considered draconian, the group said. 

On Thursday, alliance members met with Law and Human Rights Deputy Minister Edward Omar Sharif Hiariej to discuss their concerns, but he refused to reveal the latest draft of the bill, saying there were typographical errors, according to Julius Ibrani, chairman of the Indonesian Legal Aid Association.

“We agreed to come as long as they show the draft. They agreed, but at the meeting they refused,” he told BenarNews.

“The deputy minister said that this was final and the draft would be submitted to the House. ‘If you feel that there is an article that is inappropriate, please just lodge a legal challenge with the Constitutional Court,’” Ibrani quoted Sharif Hiariej as saying.

Youth members of the alliance have threatened to organize street protests bigger than those staged in 2019.

That year, thousands took to the streets of several Indonesian cities, including Jakarta, to oppose the legislation. Two students were killed in Kendari, Sulawesi, after police fired shots at protesters.

The government has been pushing for revisions to the criminal code that has been in effect since 1946, arguing that the original dates back to Dutch colonial rule in the Southeast Asian country.

Prison sentences

Sharif Hiariej, the deputy law minister, confirmed on Wednesday that provisions on insulting the government, punishable by up to four years in prison, would be retained despite opposition, CNN Indonesia reported.

Last month, legislator Arsul Sani said there had been a consensus that articles criminalizing sex outside marriage, including same-sex relations, would be included in the bill.

The draft legislation introduced by Jokowi in 2015 calls for a prison sentence of up to two years for consensual sex outside marriage, while an unmarried couple who live together could face six months in prison. The unwed couple could be reported to the authorities and charged, but only their parents or children could file a complaint.

Homosexuality and extramarital sex are not outlawed in Muslim-majority Indonesia, but some view them as vices. In Aceh province, where Islamic sharia law is in force, those found guilty could receive up to 100 lashes of the cane.

“Indonesia’s draft criminal code reflects the growing influence of Islamism, as many Islamists consider it to be the crown jewel of what they claim to be Sharia law,” Andreas Harsono, a researcher at Human Rights Watch Indonesia, told Al Jazeera in a recent report. 

“It will be disastrous not only for women, and religious and gender minorities, but for all Indonesians,” he said.

The draft also proposes that anyone who publicly incites people to leave any of Indonesia’s six recognized religions could be jailed for up to four years for religious blasphemy.

The Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, a Jakarta-based human rights NGO, urged lawmakers to review or cancel articles on religious blasphemy and others that could infringe on people’s rights and personal freedoms.

Not all acts considered taboo by a religion should be criminalized, it said, adding that laws on religious blasphemy were often used to target people of minority faiths.

“This lack of public consultation in the legislative process has been at the root of opposition to many bills because a lack of public participation in the legislative process could result in laws that fail to meet popular expectations,” Setara said.


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