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Indonesia's new criminal code sparks international outcry for restrictive sex laws


Indonesia's new criminal code, approved this week by the country's Parliament, is provoking international condemnation. The new laws essentially make having sex outside of marriage against the law, and breaking that law would land someone in jail. Human rights groups say restrictions around sex are just one part of the new code that stifles civil liberties in a much broader way. We've called on Indonesian human rights lawyer Veronica Koman. She joins me from Sydney, Australia. Thank you so much for being with us.

VERONICA KOMAN: Thank you. Hi, Rachel. Thank you for inviting me today.

MARTIN: The new criminal code would have profound implications for the LGBTQ community in Indonesia - right? - because it makes sex outside of marriage illegal, but same-sex marriage in Indonesia is banned.

KOMAN: That is very excellent question because, of course, the drafters drafted in such a heteronormative way that it further marginalizes same-sex couples because same-sex marriage is not recognized in Indonesia, and it means it can be weaponized by - because it's a clause - it's an offense-warranting complaint, it means that - by family members. So it means that LGBTQ+ people living in Indonesia will live in fear in case that - their family is not approval of their relationship, then it can be weaponized towards them.

MARTIN: So it provides those families who may suffer a rift over someone's sexuality a way to tell on one another, which seems very destructive.

KOMAN: Yeah. And it means, you know, people will live in fear of their own family members.

MARTIN: The new criminal code also limits free speech. You can't insult or critique Indonesia's president or vice president. It also outlaws demonstrations without a government permit. That seems less egregious. But talk to me about how you see these new limitations.

KOMAN: So not just - you got it right there, but not just president or vice president but any state institution, any government officials. So even if, like, I insult a receptionist working at a public prosecutor office, then I can be charged. We literally cannot speak anymore anything about government officials. It's a death to democracy in Indonesia.

MARTIN: Is there a political movement against this? Is there resistance from grassroots organizations?

KOMAN: Totally. So in 2019, actually, hundreds of thousands of Indonesians took to the streets. That's why it was delayed until now - until this week, I mean. But then COVID happened. So there's totally huge resistance. And civil society is already discussing to challenge this law at the constitutional court because, technically speaking, it will come into force in three years from now. So we have window of opportunity to raise our voice, including international pressure from - you know, the audience that hearing, listening to this right now, we need your voice.

MARTIN: Indonesian human rights lawyer Veronica Koman in Sydney, Australia. Thank you so much.

KOMAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.