Following advice from the top Muslim clerical body, Indonesian lawmakers are poised to pass a set of revisions to the country’s penal code that would criminalize extramarital sex and gay sex.
During a meeting with House Speaker Bambang Soesatyo and members of the bill deliberation committee on Tuesday, the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) called for clauses that would expand the definition of adultery and gay sex between consenting adults, according to MUI legal committee chairman Basri Barmanda.
“We also asked the lawmakers to impose heavier sentences to such offenders. Thank God our requests have been accomodated,” Basri told BenarNews.
The proposed revisions to the criminal code, which could be voted on next week, offer a five-year prison term for adultery and one year for couples accused of cohabitation.
Arsul Sani, a legislator from the Islamic-based United Development Party, attended the meeting with MUI and said in January that people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) could be prosecuted because of their “deviant behavior.”
“We are going to be firm, that we should forbid those kinds of relationships,” Bambang told reporters after the meeting. “The fact that they occur in private, only God knows, but the state has to regulate it when same-sex relationship is shown in public and causes public anxiety.”
The parliament is expected to vote on Feb. 14 following 12 years of deliberation to revise the country’s outdated penal code known by its acronym KUHP.
Bambang said that parliament could delay the vote, saying some articles require additional discussion. The next hearing session starts on March 5 and finishes on April 27.
In addition to changing penalties for adultery, the bill would allow the potential prosecution of health volunteers, social workers and NGO activists advocating for family planning by publicly showing contraceptives. Those prosecutions would not carry prison sentence but violators could face fines of up to 10 million rupiah (about U.S. $730).
“Criminalizing sexual behavior and [displaying] contraceptive tools could create a climate of fear in the midst of society and eventually makes people afraid to access health care because they could be prosecuted,” Ajeng Gandini, a researcher from Jakarta-based rights advocacy group Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR) told BenarNews.
She also said the proposed bill is counterproductive to the government’s family-planning program and contradicts the health law and other regulations.
“The use of contraception is inevitable. Therefore, information regarding the use of contraceptive tools should not be something prosecutable,” Ajeng said.
The bill also includes an article advocates see as a setback to Indonesia’s progressive democratization and freedom of expression by outlawing criticism of the government’s leaders. The article states punishment for “publicly insulting the president or the vice president” is up to five years in prison.
ICJR Managing Director Erasmus Napitupulu cited the case of Zaadit Taqwa, the head of Universitas Indonesia’s student executive body, who flashed President Joko Widodo with a yellow card – as a symbolic criticism to the president – during a university event on Feb 2.
Under the bill, flashing the yellow card, which is used by referees to signal warnings against players in football matches, could result in Zaadit being prosecuted for insulting the president, Erasmus said.
In 2006, the Constitutional Court overturned similar articles in the existing KUHP because they had originated from lese majeste, the royal defamation law, and were incompatible with Indonesia’s efforts to be a democratic country where all citizens are equal.
“It is regrettable that the KUHP bill, which is intended to decolonialize the law, is going to reinstate a provision that could take us back to the colonial era. It will curb freedom of expression and goes against our constitution,” Erasmus told BenarNews.
Justice and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly, a member of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), said the article that punishes insults of government leaders is not aimed at silencing criticism. Instead, it is necessary to prevent the country from becoming too liberal, he said.
In 2013, PDIP politicians strongly opposed a similar article in the bill, saying it would be a setback to democracy.
On Wednesday, U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein and parliamentarians from Southeast Asian countries called on Indonesia to not fan further discrimination against LGBT people and others, and drop efforts to pass the amendments.
“At a time when it is consolidating its democratic gains, we urge Indonesians to move forward – not backward – on human rights and resist attempts to introduce new forms of discrimination in law,” Zeid said on the final day of his three-day trip to Indonesia’s capital.
The ASEAN Parliamentarian for Human Rights (APHR) said the legislative amendments being debated in Indonesia went against freedom.
“These amendments are a blatant violation of all Indonesians’ right to privacy and their fundamental liberties,” board member Teddy Baguilat of the Philippines said in a statement issued by APHR. “It is extremely worrying that private affairs between two consenting, law-abiding adults could very soon be opened to government interference and scrutiny.”