Indonesia passes law making sex outside marriage punishable by jail

Indonesia’s parliament has ratified a new criminal code that makes sex outside marriage an offence punishable by up to one year in prison for residents and foreign visitors alike.

Under the amended law, several articles were revised to make sex outside marriage punishable by up to one year in prison and cohabitation by six months, although it says adultery charges must be based on police reports lodged by the offender’s spouse, parents or children.

The controversial law also includes a ban on insulting the president or the state and expressing views that counter the state’s ideology. Insults to a sitting president must be reported by the president and can lead to up to three years in jail.

The new code will now be signed into law by the president, but will not be implemented immediately as it will take a maximum of three years to transition from the old to the new code.

“That (the new criminal code) has a lot of implementing regulations that must be worked out, so it’s impossible in one year, but remember the maximum (transition period) is three years,” Edward Hiraei, the country’s deputy minister of law and human rights, said.

The criminal code makes the promotion of contraception and religious blasphemy illegal.

And the new code maintains abortion as a criminal offence with an exception for rape survivors and for women with life-threatening medical conditions, provided that the foetus is less than 12 weeks old. This is in with a separate law on medical practice passed in 2004.

Defending the criminalising of insulting the president, Mr Hiraei said the government has provided “the strictest possible explanation that distinguishes between insults and criticism”.

The passage of the code was hailed by legislators of the southeast Asian nation that has been debating revising the law since declaring independence from the Netherlands in 1949.

Yasonna Laoly, Indonesian minister of law and human rights, receives the new criminal code report from Bambang Wuryanto (Reuters)
Yasonna Laoly, Indonesian minister of law and human rights, receives the new criminal code report from Bambang Wuryanto (Reuters)

“The old code belongs to Dutch heritage... and is no longer relevant now,” Bambang Wuryanto, head of the parliamentary commission in charge of revising the code told MPs.

Several rights groups have staged protests criticising some provisions as overly broad or vague and warned that rushing them into the new criminal code could threaten freedom of expression and the right to privacy.

Critics of the new code fear that amid the rise of religious conservatism in recent years, the new laws around morality – and a separate article on customary law – will reinforce regressive and sharia-inspired bylaws at the local level.

Although the code is likely to adversely affect the LGBT+ community in Indonesia, where gay marriage is still illegal, lawmakers during a debate agreed to repeal an article proposed by hardline Islamic groups that would have made gay sex illegal.

The code safeguards capital punishment within the criminal justice system, despite calls from rights organisations to abolish the death penalty.

“We are going backward,” Amnesty International’s Indonesia director Usman Hamid told AFP.

“Repressive laws should have been abolished but the bill shows that the arguments of scholars abroad are true, that our democracy is indisputably in decline.”

The code says judges cannot hand down the death sentence immediately, and will instead be imposed with a probationary period. If within a period of 10 years the convict behaves well, then the death penalty is changed to life imprisonment or 20 years in jail.

In 2019 a previous version of the bill was close to being passed before nationwide protests led the president Joko Widodo to recommend lawmakers delay a vote on the legislation.