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Indonesia to vote on banning sex outside marriage, outlawing same-sex relationships: a ‘disastrous’ move for minorities, human rights groups say


Indonesia is set to vote on an ultra-conservative penal code that would criminalize sex outside marriage, effectively outlawing same-sex relationships in the Southeast Asian nation.

The proposed legislation, an update to the country’s criminal code which dates back to the Dutch colonial era, would also curb freedom of speech.

The 628-article bill was finalized by a parliamentary task force on Sept. 15, and a vote by the House of Representatives is expected later this month.

Human rights groups are sounding the alarm on the dangers of the legislation, and are urging President Joko Widodo to delay the passing of the bill, hoping to remove some of its provisions.

“Lawmakers should remove all the abusive articles before passing the law,” Andreas Harsono, senior Indonesia researcher at the Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Indonesian human rights organizations claim that the rights of minority groups, such as LGBTQ individuals and women, as well as non-Muslims, non-Sunni Muslims and other religious minorities are in jeopardy.

The criminal law overhaul is fueled by religious conservatism, as the world’s biggest Muslim majority country signals it could shift towards fundamentalism.

Besides making premarital, extra-marital and same-sex relations a crime, the legislation penalizes anyone who would show or offer contraception methods to minors under 18.

It also calls for the expansion of the country’s existing blasphemy laws, which have been used against religious minorities in the past, such as Buddhists or Christians.

“Indonesia’s parliament should be encouraging free speech and association, and limiting — not expanding — the Blasphemy Law,” said Harsono. “The new criminal code is a precious opportunity that shouldn’t be wasted to remove toxic laws from the books and build a better, rights-respecting Indonesia.”

If the bill becomes law, it could be “disastrous not only for women and religious and gender minorities, but for all Indonesians,” he added.

Indonesia’s Minister of Law and Human Rights Yasonna Laoly, told CNN that the law would simply update the country’s penal to align it with how Indonesians live today.

"We would like to change to our new penal code to focus more on Indonesian perspectives in the law. The reason is because there are some laws in the penal code that are not suitable for Indonesia any more," he said.

Robikin Emhas, the spokesperson for the Nahdlatul Ulama, a major Islamic organization, told Agence France-Presse that “even though the criminal code bill that will be ratified still has shortcomings, it’s far better than the [one] today."

The bill is set to go to a parliamentary session on Tuesday, according to CNN.

But the vote is only a “formality,” said Laoly. “All the parties in parliament have agreed," he added.