Indonesia's New Anti-Porn Agenda

  • Share
  • Read Later
Firdia Lisnawati / AP

An Indonesia woman wearing traditional Balinese dress shouts during a September protest in Denpasar, Bali, against a national anti-pornography bill

Indonesia watched its new anti-pornography law leap into action last weekend, as police raided a Jakarta nightclub and arrested three employees. The officers, according to the Kompas daily, detained three erotic dancers in the raid — the first arrests based on the controversial law since it passed last week by an overwhelming majority in Parliament. The women now face up to 10 years in prison.

It's a moment that has been many years in the making. The far-reaching anti-pornography bill, according to the Islamic parties that drafted it, is an attempt to define and regulate pornography in order to protect women and children who, they say, are vulnerable an increasing immorality creeping into Indonesia. The bills' critics, however, primarily ethnic and religious minorities, claim its provisions are a first step towards imposing Sharia law. Widespread protests to a previous, more severe version of the law in 2006 forced legislators to amend it, but efforts to shelve it altogether were defeated on Oct. 30.

While the bill has been watered down from its original pitch to exclude tourists and terms like "porno-action" in deference to minorities who feared their traditions could face persecution under the vague category, the final version retained a broad definition of pornography that many fear could be abused by law enforcers and radical organizations. "The law is wide open to interpretation and could even apply to voice, sound, poetry, works of art or literature," says Kadek Krishna Adidharma, one of many Balinese who see the law as an attempt by the Indonesian Muslim majority to impose their will on the rest of the country. "Anything that supposedly raises the libido could be prosecutable."

The law, first drafted in 1999 but resurrected this year by the nation's Islamic political parties as the country nears 2009 elections, has a long list of possible offenses. Anyone "displaying nudity" could be fined up to $500,000 and jailed for up to 10 years. Public performances that could "incite sexual desire" have been banned, and "civil society" groups will be allowed to help enforce the legislation. "The timing is very political," says Kadek. "The [supporting] parties want to use it to take the moral high ground as they enter the campaign season."

Parliamentarians who voted in favor of the bill deny this. "We are only giving voice to our constituents who are concerned with what they see on television and a sense of moral degradation," explains Zulkiflimansyah from the Muslim-oriented Prosperous Justice Party. Still other supporters say the law chiefly aims to regulate the distribution of adult materials, which circulate freely across the country in both big cities and small villages.

While it is true that loose regulation has made pornographic magazines and pirated DVDs easily available to minors in Indonesia, advocates for the rights of religious and ethnic minorities say the problem will not be righted by the new legislation. They point to existing provisions in the criminal law as sufficient to deal with the problem, and complain that the new law poses a threat to non-Muslim Indonesians. "The law imposes the will of the majority that embrace Islam, is a form of religious discrimination and against the spirit of tolerance taught by the country's founders," says Theophilus Bela, chairman of the Christian Communication Forum. "It is an effort to divide the country."

Four provinces with sizeable non-Muslim populations — Bali, Yogyakarta, Papua and North Sulawesi — have already rejected the law and said it will not be enforced in their regions. It remains to be seen how and if that will be tolerated by Jakarta. Major protests are planned for this month in Bali, where the governor has been a vocal opponent of the law and pledged that it will not be implemented. Many Balinese are now calling for greater autonomy and say dire consequences lie ahead if their demands are not met. "There is even a possibility that Bali will ask to separate from Indonesia," says Rudolf Dethu, a Balinese who has helped organize protests against the law. "It's that serious."