DFAT updates travel advice to Indonesia because ‘bonkban’ has raised the alarm

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    The Australian government has changed its travel advice to Indonesia after the country’s parliament passed laws criminalizing sex outside marriage.

    The so-called ‘bonk ban’, which will also apply to foreigners, carries a prison sentence of up to one year.

    Cohabitation between unmarried couples would also be banned under sweeping changes to Indonesia’s penal code passed on Tuesday.

    The Smart Traveler advisory from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) was updated on Thursday to warn anyone going to Indonesia.

    The general advice is to “be very careful” when in Indonesia.

    “The Indonesian parliament has passed revisions to the penal code, which include penalties for cohabitation and extramarital sex,” the advisory said.

    “These revisions won’t take effect for another three years.”

    The DFAT advisory also warns of the eruption of Indonesia’s largest volcano, Mount Semeru.

    “Indonesia has raised the warning for Mount Semeru near Lumajang City, East Java, to its highest level of Level IV (Caution), following a number of eruptions on December 4, 2022.

    “Some villages have been evacuated and an exclusion zone remains in force.”

    The updated travel warning comes after critics raise concerns about Indonesia’s new penal code undermining a range of civil liberties.

    The laws also include a ban on black magic, insulting the president or state institutions, spreading views contrary to state ideology, and organizing protests without notice.

    Critics say the new laws could be used to monitor morality in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, which has seen a rise in religious conservatism in recent years.

    Tourist effect

    Maulana Yusran, deputy head of Indonesia’s tourism industry, said the new bill was “totally counterproductive” at a time when the economy and tourism had begun to recover from the pandemic.

    “Hotels or other accommodation facilities are like second homes for tourists,” he said.

    “With the ratification of this penal code, hotels are now problematic places.”

    Decades in the making, lawmakers hailed the passing of the penal code as a much-needed overhaul of a colonial relic.

    “The old code belongs to the Dutch heritage … and is now no longer relevant,” Bambang Wuryanto, head of the parliamentary committee responsible for reviewing the code, told lawmakers.

    Opponents of the bill have drawn attention to articles they say are socially regressive, will restrict freedom of expression and represent a “massive setback” in ensuring the preservation of democratic freedoms after the fall of authoritarian leader Suharto in 1998.

    Responding to the criticism, Indonesia’s Minister of Law and Human Rights, Yasonna Laoly, told parliament: “It is not easy for a multicultural and multi-ethnic country to create a penal code that can accommodate all interests. “

    Legal experts say an article in the code of customary law could reinforce discriminatory and Sharia-inspired regulations at the local level and pose a particular threat to LGBTQI people.

    “Regulations inconsistent with human rights principles will be prevalent in conservative areas,” said Bivitri Susanti, of Indonesia’s Jentera School of Law, referring to existing statutes in some regions that impose curfews on women, or target what is described as “deviant” sexualities.

    The new laws will also include more lenient sentences for those accused of corruption.

    The moral charges have been partially watered down from an earlier version of the bill so that they can only be reported by a limited number of parties, such as a spouse, parent or child.

    The government planned to pass a revision of the colonial-era penal code in 2019, but nationwide protests halted its passage.

    Lawmakers have since relaxed some provisions, with President Joko Widodo urging parliament to pass the bill this year before the country’s political climate heats up ahead of presidential elections scheduled for early 2024.

    Public reaction to the new code has been muted so far, with only minor protests on Monday and Tuesday in the capital.