Indonesia’s parliament, on Tuesday, approved a new criminal code that bans sex outside marriage with a punishment of up to one year in jail.
This came amid worries that the laws may scare away tourists from its tropical shores and harm investment.
The new code, which will apply to Indonesians and foreigners alike, also prohibits cohabitation between unmarried couples.
It was passed with support from all political parties. However, the code will not come into effect until after three years to allow for the implementation of the regulations to be drafted.
Indonesia has banned adultery but not premarital sex.
Maulana Yusran, deputy chief of Indonesia’s tourism industry board, said the new code was “totally counter-productive” when the economy and tourism started recovering from the pandemic.
“We deeply regret that the government has closed its eyes,” he said. “We have already expressed our concern to the ministry of tourism about how harmful this law is.”
Foreign arrivals in the holiday destination of Bali are expected to reach pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels of six million by 2025, the tourism association said recently, as the island recovers from the impacts of COVID-19.
Speaking at an investment summit, U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Sung Kim said the news could result in less foreign investment, tourism, and travel to the Southeast Asian nation.
“Criminalising the personal decisions of individuals would loom large within the decision matrix of many companies determining whether to invest in Indonesia,” he said.
Albert Aries, a spokesperson for Indonesia’s justice ministry, said the new laws regulating morality were limited by who could report them, such as a parent, spouse, or child of suspected offenders.
“The aim is to protect the institution of marriage and Indonesian values while at the same time being able to protect the privacy of the community and also negate the rights of the public or other third parties to report this matter or ‘playing judge’ on behalf of morality,” he said.
Other laws include bans on black magic, insulting the president or state institutions, spreading views counter to state ideology, and staging protests without notification.
Editorials in national newspapers decried the new laws, with the daily newspaper Koran Tempo saying the code has “authoritarian” tones, while the Jakarta Post said it had “grave concerns” about their application.
Decades in the making, legislators hailed the passage of the criminal code as a much-needed overhaul of a colonial vestige.
Opponents of the bill highlighted articles they say will curb free speech and represent a “huge setback” in ensuring the retention of democratic freedoms after the fall of authoritarian leader Suharto in 1998.
“This is not only a setback but a death for Indonesia’s democracy,” said Citra Referandum, a lawyer from Indonesia’s Legal Aid Institute.
Responding to the criticism, Indonesia’s Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly told parliament that “it’s not easy for a multicultural and multi-ethnic country to make a criminal code that can accommodate all interests.”