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🇮🇩 A new criminal code changes everything
Making sense is a marathon, not a sprint
It’s been a hell of a visit back to Jakarta! Arrived last week, caught up with friends, checked in on my favourite malls (Lotte mall has leaned hard into the Hallyu).
This week has been a reintroduction to the old cliche of sometimes history happening within a few days. Woken up yesterday to WA notifications about a bomb in Bandung and woke up this morning to an earthquake swaying my bed.
I’ve been trying, frantically, to get across the new criminal code, passed Tuesday in parliament. It is an enormous, wide-sweeping reform aimed at casting aside the remnants of Dutch colonial-era legislation — and has been framed nationalistically by lawmakers who wholly supported the change — but is nearly completely unpopular with the country.
Analysts, academics and activists are all hard at work this week writing rebuttals while civil society and student groups, systematically defanged by the government in recent years, move towards protests and court challenges.
Below are some immediate thoughts. I’ve been particularly feral about the framing in international media (Australian media, specifically) so that takes up a lot. I’m also waiting for takes from people much smarter than me. We’ll follow this up soon because there is surely some ‘nail in the coffin of Indonesia’s democratic slide’ takes about to come out of Acton.
Another view I’m keeping an eye out for is what it means for big business and the international perspective of Indonesia. The monumental success of the G20 gave Indonesia a huge boost in perception, so to be followed so quickly by this is curious. As the group chat discussed yesterday, is it damaging? Or will faith in institutions persevere?
Serendipitously, over the weekend, I reread Ben Bland’s Man of Contradictions, an overview of President Joko Widodo’s rise in politics and the first two-thirds of his ten-year, two-terms at the top. It’s a quick, enjoyable read so big recommend it if you feel your head spinning a little from all the excitement.
I liked it so much I’ve decided to do an ebook giveaway — one for paid subscribers and one for readers on the free list (hint: paid subscribers have a much better chance). Have a go here and I’ll pick a winner using the very cute Wheel of Names on Monday.
The long-touted criminal code was approved Tuesday by the Parliament and it has unleashed hell. Reuters published an excellent primer on what is included in the code and is certainly worth reading in full. Crucially, though the law was passed this week, it will not come into effect for another three years and will certainly face many judicial challenges (which is out of my wheelhouse so will wait for the legal eggheads to let us know what will likely happen there).
The two major headlines are the criminalisation of sex before marriage and a jail term for ‘insulting’ the president. The sex stuff has garnered the most attention abroad as it applies to foreigners as well as Indonesian nationals and so has scared the hell out of would-be tourists and tourism operators alike.
For foreigners, it is a bit nuanced. Violation of this can only be reported by direct relations of the suspect: children, parent or spouse. This is, sadly, a bit of win. During negotiations this seemed like it was heading towards an ‘open season’ type of finger-pointing, allowing your boarding house or apartment manager or a nosy person down the street to dob. This largely leaves foreigners, particularly tourists, out. As one Indonesian Twitter user so succinctly put it: sexual relations with other foreigners are going to be fine.
This is aimed squarely at assuaging the more conservative elements of Indonesian society. The fear is this will be used to further target the LGBT minority and could have a tremendous impact on women, who are world over targets of this sort of thing! It also bans living together before marriage which is an intriguing clause. I know plenty of Indonesians who lived with their partners prior to being married or have not yet married and they’re of a social class unlikely to be reported. The communities that are likely to report presumably have low rates of unmarried cohabitation as it is, which makes it difficult to understand the impetus beyond control.
Less discussed in the foreign coverage is the roll-backs on democracy. It will be illegal to ‘insult’ the president or hold protests without official approval. Immediately easy to see how these sorts of restrictions will be abused. As with similarly regressive legislation in Indonesia, it’s in implementation that the true purpose and targets are revealed.
A blistering editorial from the Jakarta Post lays it out beautifully and fiercely. “The passing of the new Criminal Code is a historic moment for Indonesia, which had struggled to ditch the colonial legislation after independence,” the editorial writes. “But it is now historic for the wrong reasons — it has undone the progress we made.”
Ideologies not recognised by Pancasila, the state ideology, will be a jailable offence. That is the support of Marxism and Leninism, the constant bugbears of the governing class. It’s a “Cold War-era” policy, the Jakarta Post writes.
This is so deeply unpopular that it’s produced one of those odd moments in which progressives and Islamists find themselves both arguing against the government — but for very different reasons.
A suicide bomber attacked a police station in Bandung, West Java, yesterday morning, killing himself and one police officer and injuring about 11 others. Targeting police stations is a common tactic in Indonesia, though it has been very quiet during the pandemic period. The suspect has since been identified as a former terrorism convict with links to Jemaah Anshorut Daulah. Attached to his motorbike was a message that read: “Criminal code is the law of infidels, let’s fight the satanic law enforcers.”
Whether this is a terrible outlier or a sign of things to come remains to be seen, but it is very jarring.
As the brilliant Evi Mariani noted in her immediate thoughts on Twitter Tuesday, there are clauses that suggest trouble ahead for journalists:
Indonesia has long powered ahead of the rest of the region in press freedoms but has seen that curtailed in recent years. Who decides what a hoax is and who is responsible for spreading them is a frightening unknown:
As noted above, this will be revisited many times in the coming weeks as the extent of the law becomes apparent and the pushback movement kicks up.