Divine Word Father Otto Gusti Madung. (Photo supplied)
An Indonesian Catholic priest has joined human rights activists in criticizing a new criminal code approved by Indonesia’s parliament that outlaws sex outside of marriage with a punishment of up to one year in jail.
Indonesia's criminal code, which stretches back to the Dutch colonial era, has been debated for decades and its lawmakers finally approved sweeping changes to it on Dec. 6, despite widespread opposition from civil society.
Divine Word Father Otto Gusti Madung, a lecturer at the Institute of Philosophy and Creative Technology in Flores, East Nusa Tenggara province, called the parliament’s decision “a setback to protecting the liberal rights of citizens which includes the guarantee of human dignity.”
He said the move was part of an effort to incorporate religious morality into the law.
The priest who teaches philosophy and human rights said it is a moral imperative that sex between two individuals may only be carried out after marriage according to the religion they follow.
However, sex outside of marriage is also a private moral issue that can be resolved by religions or individual personal moral considerations in the case of non-religious people and hence should not be regulated by civil laws, he added.
"When this religious morality is adopted into criminal affairs, the state is actually making religious morality a state issue," Father Madung told UCA News.
The priest said this clearly amounted to intervening in the private sphere of citizens. Sex is different from someone committing murder or stealing, he explained.
“If two individuals are free and autonomous to have sex outside of marriage, who is the victim, and who is harmed?” he asked.
He said the state must only get involved if in such sex "there is an unequal relationship, there is no consent from one of the parties involved in the relationship, or there is sexual exploitation."
The state must protect the rights of victims in such cases, he said.
“The assumption here is that it is the piety of the religious community that suffers. But which religion? Thus, its interpretation will depend on the interpretation of law enforcers. And the subjectivity of law enforcers opens up opportunities for arbitrariness or abuse of power," he warned.
Usman Hamid of Amnesty International Indonesia called the legislation “a significant blow to Indonesia’s hard-won progress in protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms over more than two decades.”
The fact that the Indonesian government and the House of Representatives agreed to pass a code that effectively stamps out many human rights is appalling, he said.
Hamid called the ban on sex outside of marriage "a violation of the right to privacy protected under international law.”
“Such ‘morality’ provisions could even potentially be misused to criminalize victims of sexual assault or to target members of the LGBTI community. Consensual sexual relationships should not be treated as a criminal offense or a violation of ‘morality,’” he added.
Eva Sundari, a former member of the Indonesian parliament and board member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, said in a statement that “by drafting these problematic articles and allowing them to pass, the Joko Widodo administration has failed to live up to the commitment to democracy and human rights that it has so often claimed to espouse.”
The very least that President Joko Widodo can do is open the possibility for changes and judicial reviews within the next three years before the new criminal code comes fully into effect, she added.
The government and parliament have responded to criticism from civil groups by suggesting they seek a judicial review in the Constitutional Court.
Adhitiya Augusta Triputra, who represents a civil society coalition, said the Constitutional Court has become “a kind of wastebasket, the rubbish of which are the policies made by the parliament.”