DFAT updates travel advice to Indonesia as ‘bonk ban’ raises alarm

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

The so-called ‘bonk ban’, which will also apply to foreigners, would be punishable by up to one year in jail.

Cohabitation between unmarried couples would also be prohibited under the sweeping changes to Indonesia’s criminal code passed on Tuesday.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Smart Traveller advisory was updated on Thursday to alert anyone going to Indonesia to be aware.

The overall advice is to “exercise a high degree of caution” when in Indonesia.

“Indonesian Parliament has passed revisions to its criminal code, which includes penalties for cohabitation and sex outside of marriage,” said the advice.

“These revisions will not come into force for three years.”

The DFAT advice also warns about the eruption of Indonesia’s largest volcano Mount Semeru.

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

“Some villages have been evacuated and an exclusion zone continues to apply.”

The updated travel warning comes as critics have raised concerns about Indonesia’s new criminal code undermining a range of civil liberties.

The laws also include bans on black magic, insulting the president or state institutions, spreading views counter to state ideology and staging protests without notification.

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

Tourism impact

Maulana Yusran, deputy chief of Indonesia’s tourism industry board, said the new bill was “totally counter-productive” at a time when the economy and tourism were starting to recover from the pandemic.

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

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

Decades in the making, legislators hailed the passage of the criminal code as a much-needed overhaul of a colonial vestige.

“The old code belongs to Dutch heritage … and is no longer relevant now,” Bambang Wuryanto, head of the parliamentary commission in charge of revising the code told lawmakers.

Opponents of the bill have highlighted articles they say are socially regressive, will curb free speech and represent a “huge setback” in ensuring the retention of democratic freedoms after the fall of authoritarian leader Suharto in 1998.

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

Legal experts say an article in the code on customary law could reinforce discriminatory and sharia-inspired by-laws at a local level and pose a particular threat to LGBTQI people.

“Regulations that are not in accordance with human rights principles will occur in conservative areas,” said Bivitri Susanti, from the Indonesia Jentera School of Law, referring to existing by-laws in some regions that impose curfews on women, or target what are described as “deviant” sexualities.

The new laws will also include more lenient sentences for those charged with corruption.

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

The government had planned to pass a revision of the country’s colonial-era criminal code in 2019 but nationwide protests halted its passage.

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

The public response to the new code has been muted so far, with only small protests held in the capital on Monday and Tuesday.

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