World

Indonesia to pass new criminal code to outlaw premarital sex

JAKARTA : Indonesia is poised to pass a new penal code that criminalises consensual sex outside marriage and introduces stiff penalties for insulting the president's dignity - a move rights groups criticised as an intrusive assault on basic freedoms.

Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim- majority country and has substantial Christian, Hindu and Buddhist minorities, but has seen a recent trend towards deeper religious piety.

The new criminal code is due to be adopted next week after Parliament and the government agreed on a final draft on Wednesday, four parliamentarians told Reuters.

Lawmakers said the new penal code, which would replace a Dutch colonial-era set of laws, was an overdue expression of Indonesian religiosity.

"The state must protect citizens from behaviour that is contrary to the supreme precepts of God," said Mr Nasir Djamil, a politician from the Prosperous Justice Party. He added that leaders of all the religions had been consulted.

Under the proposed laws, unmarried couples who "live together as husband and wife" could be jailed for six months or face a maximum fine of 10 million rupiah (S$980).

A prosecution can proceed if a village chief, who heads the lowest tier of government, files a complaint with police, and parents or children of the accused do not object. Parents, children and spouses can also lodge a complaint.

The Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, a non-governmental organisation , said millions of Indonesians could be ensnared. It noted a study indicating that 40 per cent of Indonesian adolescents engaged in premarital sexual activity.

Meanwhile, Parliament has reintroduced the offence of "attacking the honour or dignity" of Indonesia's president and vice-president. A similar law was struck down by the Constitutional Court in 2006, and the new version is likely to be challenged by rights activists as well.

Insulting the government and state institutions also carries a prison term. - REUTERS

WORLD