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Indonesia: New law is a ‘significant blow’ to human rights

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The new criminal code bans free speech, limits freedom of assembly and outlaws sex outside marriage

‘This criminal code should have never been passed and is a dramatic rollback of human rights progress in Indonesia’ - Usman Hamid

Responding to the passing of Indonesia’s new criminal code, which includes prohibiting sex outside marriage, restricting freedom of assembly, and bans criticism of the president, Usman Hamid, Amnesty International’s Indonesia Executive Director, said:

“What we’re witnessing is a significant blow to Indonesia’s hard-won progress in protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms over more than two decades. The fact that the Indonesian government and the House of Representatives agreed to pass a penal code that effectively stamps out many human rights is appalling.

“This contentious and overreaching new criminal code will only do more harm to an already shrinking civic space in Indonesia. The reinstatement of provisions banning insults to the president and vice president, the sitting government as well as state institutions will further entrench obstacles to freedom of speech while criminalising legitimate and peaceful dissent.

"The ban on unsanctioned public demonstrations could restrict the right to peaceful assembly. It will practically give those in power authority to suppress opinions that they don't like through selective enforcement. This can cement a climate of fear that stifles peaceful criticism and freedom of assembly.

“Outlawing sex outside marriage is a violation to the right to privacy protected under international law. Such ‘morality’ provisions could even potentially be misused to criminalise victims of sexual assault or to target members of the LGBTI community. Consensual sexual relationships should not be treated as a criminal offence or a violation of ‘morality’.

“This criminal code should have never been passed and is a dramatic rollback of human rights progress in Indonesia. Instead of destroying hard-won rights victories, the Indonesian government and the House of Representatives should live up to their human rights commitments for the benefit of all Indonesians.”

A massive step backwards

Indonesia’s House of Representatives passed the new criminal code into law amid widespread public criticism over provisions that could potentially be misused and misinterpreted to unduly restrict human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, privacy, as well as sexual reproductive rights.

Under it sex outside marriage is punishable by one year in jail and cohabitation outside marriage by six months in jail. It also criminalises the promotion of contraception while maintaining abortion as a crime.

It reinstates articles banning insults to the president and vice president – which the Constitutional Court annulled in 2006 – both directly and through audio visual or digital means, punishable by up to 3.5 years and 4.5 years in jail, respectively.

The law also criminalises insults against government and state institutions, and outlaws unsanctioned public demonstrations deemed to be disturbing public order. These broad provisions could be misused to suppress legitimate criticism and peaceful assembly.

It maintains imprisonment as a penalty for defamation and religious blasphemy, while retaining treason provisions that could further curtail the rights to freedom of opinion and expression as well as freedom of religion or belief.

New provisions concerning genocide and crimes against humanity run contrary to international human rights law and could potentially deny victims of past gross human rights violations access to justice, truth, and redress.

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