Jakarta, Dec 6 (EFE).- The Indonesian parliament Tuesday approved sweeping criminal code reforms, which include criminalizing sex outside marriage, sparking protect freedom cries in the Muslim-majority country.
Activists and rights defenders have warned that the new code, which also punishes insulting the president, threatened human rights in the country with the largest Muslim population.
The reforms can be challenged in the constitutional court within two years from the date of parliamentary nod, Alif Nurwidiastomi, from the Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation, told EFE.
But Nurwidiastomi said it was hogwash because of the nexus between the government and the judiciary.
He said the government would ultimately implement the reforms even if challenged in court.
The reform, in the pipeline for decades, has triggered protests in the country known for its liberal tradition.
On Monday, a crowd gathered in front of the parliament in Jakarta to protest against the penal code reform.
A statement by 100 non-profit groups who took part in the protests said the reform was “anti-democratic” and perpetuated corruption.
The new code “silence(s) freedom of the press, hinder(s) academic freedom, regulate(s) the private sphere of society, discriminate(s) against women and marginalized groups, and threaten(s) the existence of indigenous peoples,” the statement said.
The reform had made 632 changes criminal code, of which the most criticized articles include those criminalizing extramarital sexual relations with punishments of up to one year in prison.
Cohabitation outside marriage can result in up to six months of imprisonment.
Apostasy is also a crime as the new code expands existing anti-blasphemy laws.
Public opinions or committing “hostile acts” against the religions professed in Indonesia entail up to five years in prison.
Another contentious change is criminalizing the contempt of government institutions, which provides a maximum of three years in prison for criticizing officials like the president and the vice president.
The reform also includes a ban on insulting the national flag and anthem and criticizing the founding ideology of Indonesia, known as Pancasila, described as a form of religious socialism likely to be used against Islamist groups.
The change in the code is considered a controversial juggling act by the reformist President Joko Widodo to satisfy the growing conservative sector while limiting the field of operation of the more radical groups.
However, human rights activists and analysts remain critical of many provisions, believing that they could undermine the rights of communities including the LGBTI, freedom of expression, and dissent in a country where the memory of dictator Suharto – overthrown in 1998 – remains fresh.
For decades, Indonesia has been trying to reform its penal code, which dates back to the Dutch colonial era.
In 2006, it removed the parts used by Suharto to persecute critics during his 32 years in power. EFE