January 29, 2018 / 10:47 AM / 10 months ago

Draft proposals in Indonesian parliament aim to ban extramarital sex

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia’s parliament is drafting proposed revisions to the national criminal code that could ban all consensual sex outside marriage, sparking alarm among activists who it would breach basic rights and could be misused to target the LGBT community.

FILE PHOTO: Syariah policemen hold an Indonesian man after being publicly caned for having gay sex, in Banda Aceh, Aceh province, Indonesia May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Beawiharta/File Photo

The parliamentary commission drawing up recommendations to change the Dutch colonial-era criminal code has still to finalize its proposals.

But a draft, seen by Reuters on Monday, included measures to criminalize extramarital sex, same-sex relations, and co-habitation, all of which were previously unregulated by law.

Adultery is already deemed a crime in Indonesia, the Southeast Asian country with the world’s largest Muslim population.

Last month, the Constitutional Court narrowly voted to strike down a similar petition filed by the Family Love Alliance, one of the conservative groups behind the move to push legislation through parliament.

“The truth is the majority of religions in Indonesia hold the same values, so...(the revisions) are representative of the majority and of all cultures in Indonesia,” said Euis Sunarti, a member of the Family Love Alliance, which likens itself to conservative evangelical Christian groups in the United States.

The parliamentary commission has been holding consultations with the public, taking the opinion of religious scholars, legal experts and rights groups over how to change the criminal code where it relates to extramarital sex.

Most political parties are reported to be for the changes, particularly those that outlaw gay sex.

Junimart Girsang, a member of parliament from the nationalist Indonesian Democratic Party of Stuggle (PDIP), said same-sex relations could not be accepted in the country.

“In legal terms, religious terms and ethical terms, we cannot have that in our country,” Girsang, a member of the parliamentary commission, said.

Few Indonesian politicians have voiced support for LGBT rights for fear of alienating a largely conservative voter base ahead of legislative and presidential elections next year.

Parliament has debated revisions to the criminal code, including regulations on corruption, sex and alcohol, for many years. But after repeated delays it is expected to finalize proposals during coming weeks.

Rights activists say the proposals, if approved, would be difficult to police without violating privacy and could threaten social development.

“The draft law will create new discriminatory offences that do not exist in the current criminal code. It will slow down Indonesia’s efforts to develop their economy, society, knowledge, education etc....if law enforcement agencies are busy policing morality,” said Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch.

FILE PHOTO: An Indonesian man is publicly caned for having gay sex, in Banda Aceh, Aceh province, Indonesia May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Beawiharta/File Photo

“It’s sounding like the Acehnese sharia code,” he added, referring to the ultra-conservative province at the northern tip of Sumatra island, which is the only Indonesian region to implement Islamic law.

Activists are particularly worried the new law may be used to target the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, which has faced rising hostility in recent years.

A recent survey found that nearly 90 percent of Indonesians who understand the term LGBT feel “threatened” by the community and believe their religion forbids same-sex relations.

Additional reporting by Ed Davies; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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