News / Asia

Indonesia's Anti-Pornography Law Raises Fears for Minorities, Liberals

A man browses at pictures of Japanese porn star Maria Ozawa posted on a local Web site at a public Internet service in Jakarta (Sep 2009 file photo)
A man browses at pictures of Japanese porn star Maria Ozawa posted on a local Web site at a public Internet service in Jakarta (Sep 2009 file photo)



The recent arrest of six people in Indonesia over a nightclub show is raising concerns among minority groups and secularists about a new anti-pornography law.

In late 2008, Indonesia's parliament passed a broad law aimed at stamping out what many politicians saw as an epidemic of pornography. Pushed by Islamic conservatives, the law outlawed anything - from books to paintings to some bodily movements - considered capable of raising feelings of lust.
Liberals and non-Muslims opposed the law, saying it is too harsh and too broad. But there was little action - until the arrest last month of four women for dancing in their underwear at a nightclub in Bandung.

The women arrested at the Belair Café and Music Lounge are likely to be the first people tried under the law and could face up to 10 years in prison. Their agent and a club manager could be jailed for 15 years.

Rights activists say the use of the law is the first step of a crusade they fear will spread beyond the fight against smut, and become a campaign against regional traditions and religious minorities. The concern is that everything from traditional dances to Hindu temple carvings could fall afoul of the law.

Ellin Rozana, the director of the Indonesian women's rights group Institut Perempuan, says the anti-pornography law is part of a project by some Islamic parties to push Indonesia toward adopting aspects of sharia, or Islamic law.

"The spirit of the law is to fight against Indonesian pluralism," she said.

Rozana says the law discriminates against women. She is urging police to drop charges against the six arrested people, who are yet to go to trial.

Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population - more than 200 million people. But it also has a secular government and many minority groups who practice a variety of other religions. The culture mixes in Hindu, Buddhist and folk traditions that date back before Islam came to the islands.

The secretary of West Java's top council of Muslim clerics, Rafani Achyar, says the new law is essential to uphold moral values. He says suggestive acts like the dancers at the Belair Café are a stain on Bandung, and a threat to Indonesia's future.

He says heavy punishments should be a warning to people to watch their behavior.

The head of Bandung's public order police, Ferdi Ligaswara, says the raid on the Belair Café is in line with a broader vice crackdown by the city mayor.

He says authorities have officially declared Bandung a "religious city." But Ligaswara says that is not the same as declaring it an Islamic city.

He says the city is working hard to wipe out what the local government sees as pornography, including dances involving nudity or too much eroticism.

But many are concerned the law could go further.

Mas Nanu Muda is a Muslim and a practitioner of jaipongan, a local dance that draws on West Java's pre-Islamic heritage.

The provincial governor has already criticized the swaying women's movements in jaipongan as being too suggestive.

Although local officials say there are no plans for a crackdown on jaipongan, Mas Nanu says he thinks the dance will be next.

He says the problem with many of the politicians is that they think they are being good Muslims by trying to replace local traditions with Arab culture.

It is a complaint heard frequently in Indonesia. The country has long had a reputation as a bastion of moderate Islam. But moves such as the new anti-pornography law are seen by many as a sign that reputation may be under threat.


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