Civil liberties threatened as Indonesia is set to approve the draft penal code

Last week civil society was in turmoil in Indonesia. A chain of protests all over Indonesia drew in thousands of angry demonstrators. Consisting mainly of university students and representatives of civil society organisations, these demonstrations address a series of pressing issues. Besides the controversial draft penal code, protesters call for the removal of the new regulation on the anti-corruption committee and demand peace amidst rising tensions in West Papua.

Danger to democracy

“Nearing their term, members of parliament are keen to pass many laws, including the draft penal code,” explains Maidina Rahmawati, research associate at the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR) in Jakarta. Out of the 18 problematic articles in the code, the ban on extra-marital sex is one of the most controversial. If passed, it would lead to the criminalisation of homosexuality and cohabitation. The proposed bill also sets out new laws related to discussions of sex education and contraception and includes a four-year jail term for unauthorised abortions. To make things worse, local laws could be used to allow hundreds of existing and discriminatory sharia laws at local level, which would further be curtailing personal rights and freedoms.


We do need a new criminal code, but it should be in line with democratic principles, and it should protect all people without leaving anyone behind


Advocacy on the ground

”We have been continuously monitoring debates around the draft penal code since 2015. With the help of a senior criminal law expert, we have been presenting practical evidence-based recommendations to the parliamentary committee working on legal matters,” explains Maidina.

According to her, the committee held open discussions with civil society representatives until May 2018. Ever since, access to information has been extremely limited. Thanks to progressive academics ICJR is in contact with, they have been able to monitor the situation. “We need to move our discussion with the government in a way that does not clash with national issues, such as religion. Instead, we need to think about the topics that are of interest to our government, such as development, infrastructure, and tourism.”


We need to move our discussion with the government in a way that does not clash with national issues


Recently, ICJR has drafted a petition that urges parliament not to pass the contentious bill but instead start discussions with civil society again when the new parliament and government are sworn in.

“So far, the petition has been successfully shared across the country on various platforms. The Director of ICRJ was invited to the Executive Office of the President to present the problematic areas within the draft code and explain why the code should not be brought to the parliament for approval”, explains Maidina. In addition, “the government and the parliament should use evidence in their discussions and debates. They should be open to new perspectives and insights from the public health, education and social welfare sectors. At the moment, mainly criminal law experts have been consulted in the code drafting process,” notes Maidina.

Hanging in the air

Against the backdrop of the protests, the Indonesian president announced that further discussions on the draft code will be postponed. However, tensions prevail as parliament could still pass the bill within their term, which officially ends on 30 September.


Keep abreast on the developments at the ICJR website (In Bahasa and English). 

Maidina Rahmawati is research associate at the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR) in Jakarta, Indonesia. ICJR is an independent research institute focussing on criminal law and justice reform, and general law reform in Indonesia. ICJR takes initiative by providing support in the context of establishing respect for the Rule of Law and at the same time establishing a fervent human rights culture in criminal justice system.

Maidina Rahmawati
PITCH logo

Aidsfonds.org uses cookies to offer the best website experience possible and to anonymously analyze website behaviour. More information.