Indonesian Islamists Are Shockingly Close To Passing A Law Jailing Unmarried Couples

Jack Crowe | Political Reporter

Islamic political activists in Indonesia are on the verge of successfully rewriting the country’s largely secular penal code to criminalize homosexuality, sex out of wedlock and other behaviors deemed immoral.

Lawmakers in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, are in the process of drafting a sweeping rewrite of the criminal code that, among other things, changes the definition of infidelity to include sex between unmarried people and increases the penalty from a maximum of nine months to five years, according to a Wall Street Journal review of the draft.

The proposed draft also criminalizes criticism of the president and cohabitation by unmarried couples, and expands blasphemy laws, which critics allege are increasingly used to target religious minorities. Though the changes are still being negotiated, Asrul Sani, a lawmaker from the Islamic-based United Development Party, recently told reporters that the group of 25 lawmakers working on the revised code have agreed on almost all of the 800 articles included.

One member of the ruling Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle framed the adultery provisions as a protective measure for women and children.

“There are many cases of women being tricked by men into sexual relations, and [they] have no grounds to report it,” Ichsan Soelistio told the WSJ.

The conservative legislative push comes after the nation’s top court narrowly rejected a petition by Islamic activists to criminalize all sex out of wedlock and cohabitation.

While Islamists have been trying to reshape the country’s penal code for decades, experts familiar with the political environment believe its currently ripe for concessions.

“While the secular-nationalist parties are not driving this, I can’t see any of them risking their Islamic credentials ahead of elections by opposing,” Hugo Brennan, Asia politics analyst with risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, told the WSJ.

Liberal rights groups are fighting back; an online petition launched days ago has more than 20,000 signatories.

“Indonesia, whose constitution guarantees human rights and has ratified many human rights covenants, will be ridiculed by the world for creating a law that is potentially violating many of those rights,” Muhammad Isnur, head of advocacy at the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute Foundation, told the Chicago Tribune.

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