Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo announced on Friday he wanted parliament to delay its vote on the country’s proposed new criminal code. The pending bill contains dozens of articles that violate the rights of women, religious minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people – and ultimately all Indonesians.
Jokowi’s announcement followed large demonstrations in Jakarta’s streets in recent days. Yet it will mean little unless he can persuade his ruling coalition to vote against the draft law.
Jokowi’s opposition is a welcome but belated turnaround. The bill had earlier received support from his administration, allowing it to proceed to a second stage of deliberations where the plenary session in the House of Representatives will decide.
If passed by parliament, the 628-article bill would become law 30 days later, whether Jokowi signs it or not. Jokowi has instructed Minister for Law and Human Rights Yasonna Laoly to encourage parliamentarians to delay the bill, letting the next parliament, to be sworn in on October 1, debate it.
Provisions in the bill that effectively censor the dissemination of information about contraception and criminalize abortions will deprive women and girls of their right under international law to make their own choices about when and whether to have children. Provisions that criminalize sex outside of marriage and unmarried cohabitation violate international law by criminalizing consensual sex between adults. These provisions are likely to disproportionately affect women and criminalize same-sex conduct – something Indonesia has never done.
Six new articles on blasphemy could be used to further discriminate against non-Muslim, non-Sunni, and local believers. Indonesia’s blasphemy law is already used as a “political weapon”; expanding its “elements of crimes” – including defaming religious artifacts – will facilitate Islamist militants’ targeting of minorities.
A new criminal code could be an opportunity to remove toxic and discriminatory laws from the books and build a better, rights-respecting Indonesia. But if Jokowi’s late move to delay debate fails, his vision of a modernizing and open country will be lost.