New Law in Indonesia on Private Life Behaviour Could Seriously Damage Tourism

Indonesia, criminal code, laws, marital status

Protesters in Surabaya-(Photo: Associated Press)

A new criminal law in Indonesia is generating protests from Indonesians as well as people in the tourism industry as the criminalization of private life behaviours is turning into serious restrictions of people’s freedoms including tourists coming into the country as it will also apply to foreign visitors.

Indonesia has been rocked by protests  for over a week with students demonstrating in the various cities of the country to protest against a new law. The new criminal law, which is due to be adopted by the parliament overhaul criminal code procedures which barely did not change since colonial times. Except that they appear to be more restrictive on people’s freedom.

The most headline-grabbing issue is a proposed ban on extramarital sex and on homosexuality which would not only apply to locals but also foreigners. Other points in the new code target to outlaw insulting the president, a toughening of blasphemy laws, the criminalisation of abortion in the absence of a medical emergency or rape as well as imposing to Muslim women to wear a hijab and to follow a night curfew. Corruption has been targeted but in the opposite way. The Indonesia’s anti-corruption agency will lose most of its prerogatives. They are also other points related to labour relations which trigger demonstrations in provinces such as Kalimantan or Papua.

The new criminal code seems to favour above all conservative Muslims and to go backwards from a social point of view. Protests are now mounting. Protesters demand now to see the law postponed and definitely repealed.

Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, ordered his government a week ago to postpone the ratification of the draconian draft laws.

“I have ordered the law and human rights minister to convey this decision to parliament, to delay the confirmation of the criminal code bill,” the president declared in a televised news conference. He said he had decided the bill needed further review after taking into account input from various groups who objected to parts of it.

The extramarital sex issue could turn into a burning point for Indonesia tourism. As the law will also apply to foreigners, it could then punish non married couples such as an unmarried couple going for a holiday to Bali. The government has played down the issue, telling that it would first take another two years to have the law effectively implemented. Extramarital sex activities would only be processed if there is a complaint from a spouse, parent or child inside a family.

However, the Australian Government already updated its travel advice for Indonesia, warning tourists they could be jailed for having sex outside of marriage if proposed laws are passed. Bali could then be the most vulnerable if tourists start reconsidering their holiday in Indonesia. The island welcomes over six million international tourists per year.