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Clara Ferreira Marques

Sex Isn’t the Only Problem With Indonesia's New Penal Code

The bill panders to conservative Islamic groups and tarnishes a reputation for tolerance. With an election due in 2024, there may be more twists ahead.

Unity in diversity

Unity in diversity

Photographer: ADEK BERRY/AFP

To anyone who’s been watching Indonesia in recent years, the passing of a conservative new criminal code — one that bans extramarital sex, makes it easier to punish LGBTQ people and harder to criticize the government — won’t come as a shock. Less tolerant forms of Islam have been seeping into the world’s most populous Muslim nation. Destructive blasphemy charges have toppled political hopefuls and Islamic bylaws are common. To secure his reelection in 2019, President Joko Widodo chose senior cleric Ma'ruf Amin as his running mate.

That doesn’t make the bill — and the circumstances that allowed it to be rushed through, without significant political resistance — any less troubling. Indonesia is attempting to court foreign investment, to improve its workforce and education system, and just bolstered its international standing with its presidency of the Group of 20. Jakarta can't afford backsliding. It’s also gearing up for a presidential election in 2024, meaning discourse isn’t likely to move in a more liberal direction.