Indonesia's president urged to scrap anti-LGBT+ law changes

KUALA LUMPUR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Indonesia’s president, who on Friday ordered lawmakers to delay a planned vote on updates to the country’s penal code, has been urged to scrap the changes as they would further persecute the country’s beleaguered LGBT+ community.

FILE PHOTO: Indonesia's incumbent president Joko Widodo, who was re-elected on April's election gestures as he delivers a speech to highlight his vision for the next five years in Bogor, West Java province, Indonesia, July 14, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

Under draft laws agreed by lawmakers and the government earlier this week, unmarried couples who “live together as a husband and wife” could be jailed for six months.

The revisions, which were due to be voted on in parliament on Tuesday before President Joko Widodo ordered a delay on Friday - also apply a one-year prison term to a person who has sex with someone who is not their spouse.

The draft laws impact the LGBT+ community in particular as gay marriage is not recognized in Indonesia.

“It’s another big blow to human rights - the old forces are rearing their ugly head,” said Dede Oetomo, one of Indonesia’s most prominent gay activists and founder of LGBT+ rights group GAYa NUSANTARA.

“Let’s hope they listen - it gives a glimmer of hope,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation after the president ordered the vote to be delayed.

Socially conservative attitudes prevail across Asia, and deep-rooted biases have hamstrung progress on gay rights.

Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei ban sexual relationships between men, and Indonesia has seen an increase in raids targeting LGBT+ people in recent years.

Indonesia’s penal code revisions, which would replace a Dutch colonial-era set of laws, included prison terms for those found to commit “obscene acts”, defined as violating norms of decency and politeness through “lust or sexuality”.

They will apply equally to heterosexuals and gay people.

“Experience from recent years has shown that existing national legislation - such as the pornography act and public nuisance laws - which do not refer explicitly to same-sex relations, have been used to target and imprison LGBTQ people,” said Jessica Stern of OutRight Action International.

“The proposed changes to the criminal code will introduce a specific reference to same-sex acts, and as such, will give authorities in Indonesia even more legal backing to persecute LGBTQ people.”

Under the draft changes, there would also be a maximum four-year prison term for women who have an abortion, applicable if there was no medical emergency or rape involved.

Criminalising adultery and some forms of abortion, and the provision of information about contraception would all affect women’s ability to make decisions about their own lives, said human rights advocates.

“President Widodo needs to ask his ruling coalition not only to delay but also to remove articles that will violate the rights of women, religious minorities and LGBT people, as well as freedom of speech and association,” said Andreas Harsono, a researcher for Human Rights Watch in Jakarta.

Reporting by Michael Taylor @MickSTaylor; Editing by Hugo Greenhalgh. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit