Criminalization of same-sex relationships . . .
Indonesia is set to pass a new criminal law on September 24th, replacing its 100-year-old penal code from the Dutch colonial era. The new law is seen as a setback to the image that Indonesia has built for itself as the world’s largest democratic Muslim-majority country, tolerant of a diverse mix of ethnic and religious minorities. The controversial new criminal law would outlaw same-sex relationships, extramarital sex, and unmarried couples living together. In addition, the law would criminalize abortion practices and make it an offence to insult the president and vice-president, stifling press freedom.
Ongoing backlash . . .
The new criminal law is a culmination of a high-level, anti-LGBT backlash that began in 2016 when Indonesian officials and ministers started making derogatory comments about LGBT people. Indonesia’s minister of defence has said that LGBT rights are “more dangerous than nuclear war,” while the mental health director at the Ministry of Health has claimed that LGBT people have “psychiatric disorders.” Indonesia’s President Jokowi appointed Ma'ruf Amin, a powerful Islamic figure known for his support of religious decrees against religious minorities and LGBT people, as his running mate in the April 2019 general election. The appointment of Ma’ruf, who is currently Indonesia’s vice-president-elect, was seen as a strong signal that the ratification of the new criminal law could be sped up after decades of revisions due to conflicting views of lawmakers over core issues in the draft bill.
Broader implications . . .
Due to a wave of public anger, including a 300,000-signature petition, President Jokowi today ordered a delay in a parliamentary vote on the sweeping legislation. The controversial articles, however, indicate that Indonesia may becoming increasingly intolerant. Pressure on the president from Indonesia’s powerful Islamic community also makes the length of the delay uncertain. Indonesia’s increasing intolerance of LGBT people reflects a widening gap in the region. On the opposite side of this divide, Taiwan legalized same-sex marriage in May 2019, and Thailand could follow as the first country in Southeast Asia, with a draft bill to approve same-sex unions in the works.