Indonesia’s New ‘Morality Laws’ a Setback for Sexual Minorities, Free Speech

Human rights groups in Indonesia are reeling after the country’s parliament passed a set of laws on Tuesday to criminalize extra-marital sex, with violators facing up to a year in jail. It will also become illegal to insult the president, state institutions, and state ideology, crimes punishable by up to three years in jail.  

Rise of Indonesia’s religious right

Indonesia has long enjoyed a reputation as a pillar of moderate Islam and democratization. But conservative Islam — a driving force behind the sweeping new legislation — has been gaining traction both within the government and among some segments of society. With the next general election scheduled for early 2024, none of the major political parties wanted to alienate the religious right, helping to pave the way for these new ‘morality laws’ and curbs on free speech.

Devil in the details

While it may take up to three years for the new laws to come into effect, critics are already sounding the alarm. The laws banning the criticism of political authority are vague and could be easily abused to stifle dissent. And while violations of the law related to extra-marital sex can only be reported by one’s spouse, parent, or children (a technicality that could help shield expats and other foreigners), rights advocates say the country’s women and LGBTQ+ individuals will be especially vulnerable.