Indonesia’s new Criminal Code could be used to target LGBT people

LGBT activists are furious after the Indonesian Parliament passed a new Criminal Code that makes extramarital sex and cohabitation an offence. Activists say that because same-sex marriage is impossible in Indonesia, all gay sex will become illegal in the southeast Asian nation.

Indonesian students protest firing of journalists over article about a lesbian relationship in 2019. (Apriadi Gunawan photo courtesy of Jakarta Post)

Same-sex sexual activity had never been penalized under Indonesia’s previous national Criminal Code, which was inherited from the Dutch colonial administration. However, the semi-autonomous province Aceh has its own Criminal Code based on Islamic shariah law, which does punish sodomy with up to 100 lashes with a cane or up to 100 months in prison.

Under the new Criminal Code, extramarital sex and cohabitation will be illegal, although the only people entitled to bring charges forward will be the accused’s parents, spouse, or children.

There are conflicting reports on whether the law will apply to same-sex sexual relations. Lawmakers rejected adding a specific offence of sodomy or same-sex intimacy.

However, because the laws on extramarital sex and cohabitation do not specify gender, LGBT activists point out that they will necessarily criminalize all acts of same-sex intimacy, because same-sex marriage is not allowed in Indonesia.

“Indonesia does not recognise same-sex marriage, meaning that adultery and cohabitation articles might be used against LGBTQ couples,” said Andreas Harsono, senior Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Let’s say a parent or a spouse report an individual to the police, it will be a legal case.”

The Code reportedly includes sections which would reinforce customary and shariah-inspired local bylaws which can be used to persecute LGBT people.

“These provisions will make LGBTI Indonesians, even more of second-class citizens, even more invisible,” said Amnesty International Indonesia executive director Usman Hamid.

It also includes many new provisions that have been criticized for cracking down on political expression, association and religious freedom. The law criminalizes insulting the president, associating with or spreading Marxism, blasphemy, and apostasy.

The new Criminal Code must still be signed by President Joko Widodo before it becomes law. It will go into effect three years from the signing date.

The Indonesian government had previously attempted to revise its Criminal Code in 2019, including the addition of specific provisions against sodomy, but the government halted its ratification following widespread protests.

Activists plan to continue to protest the new Criminal Code in the coming days and weeks.

Written by Rob Salerno

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