News / Asia

Proposals to Update Indonesia’s Criminal Code Stir Controversy

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Kate Lamb
— As part of sweeping plans to modernize Indonesia’s Criminal Code, the government has announced plans to outlaw adultery, cohabiting couples and so-called “black magic.” Civil society groups agree a revision is necessary, but say the proposed overhaul is not only out of date, but out of touch.

Indonesia’s Criminal Code, a legacy from Dutch colonial times, has long warranted revision.

Civil society groups have campaigned for years for changes such as including a formal recognition of human rights. But some say the government’s proposed changes - including five years in jail for convicted adulterers, witches and sorcerers - are more medieval than modern.

Febionista, director of the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute, says the changes will not only be difficult to apply but contradict the government’s international commitment to human rights.

“It will be counterproductive to the government commitment to uphold human rights," he said. "The provision proposed by the state regarding adultery, black magic, it is somehow influenced by moral failures, especially certain religions. It cannot necessarily be adopted if it doesn't apply universally.”

Despite the criticism, officials from the Justice and Human Rights Ministry who drafted the changes have defended them as necessary to curb offenses such as adultery.

But Febionista says they are another sign of how Islam is playing an increasing role in Indonesian politics, and warns more puritanical legislation could be adopted in the future.

He also pointed to the proposed inclusion of new blasphemy and libel laws that he argued could endanger freedom of expression. And the inclusion of laws against black magic, which could be confused with traditional practices beliefs.

Civil society networks expect the plans will generate heated public debate.

Others, such as Zainaul Abidin from the Indonesian Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy, agree the code should be revised but not now.

“It is better to discuss it after the election with the new members of parliament and also the new government. Hopefully we will have good and strong government that understands human rights,” Abidin said.

Indonesia’s Criminal Code was last revised 49 years ago.

Plans to discuss the current revision will start on March 18, but it is not likely to be passed before the next election.

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