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Malaysia Introduces New Criminal Code Which Bans Sex Outside Marriage

Malaysia has introduced a new criminal code that bans sex outside marriage for citizens and foreigners alike. The new code also prohibits insults against the president or state institutions. The draconian legislation was passed with unanimous support from all political parties of the country, prompting alarm from human rights campaigners. The law in question allows parents or close relatives of any individual to report them to the police for engaging in ‘extra-marital affairs. Under the new law, those found guilty will be punished with jail time of up to one year. According to a report in The Guardian, Indonesia’s Amnesty International executive director, Usman Hamid, is quoted as saying, “What we’re witnessing is a significant blow to Indonesia’s hard-won progress in protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms over more than two decades.” “Outlawing sex outside marriage is a violation to the right to privacy protected under international law,” Hamid said. “Consensual sexual relationships should not be treated as a criminal offence or a violation of ‘morality’.” He describes the code as being “appalling”.

This move is also set to affect Indonesia’s recovering tourist industry, which saw a huge setback during the pandemic. In recent years, Indonesia’s tourism industry has seen a substantial rise and is one of its main sources of foreign currency. Tourism contributes to almost 5.7% of the country's GDP and employs nearly 10% of the country’s workforce. However, an article from Reuters reports that the deputy chief of Indonesia’s tourism board, Maulana Yusran has stated that the new code was "totally counter-productive", especially at a time when the country and industry had just started to recover from the pandemic. Moreover, in a CNN article Putu Winastra, the chairman of the Association of The Indonesian Tours and Travel Agencies (ASITA), the country’s largest tourism group said, "From our point of view as tourism industry players, this law will be very counterproductive for the tourism industry in Bali -- particularly the chapters about sex and marriage. Now foreign tourists will think twice about traveling to Bali because they might be jailed for violating the laws." “Do tourist couples (visiting Bali) have to prove that they are married? Should we be asking them if they are married or not?" wonders Putu. Earlier this year the global industry body, World Travel, and Tourism Council predicted a 10% year-on-year growth for Indonesia’s travel industry. The sector is predicted to contribute approximately $118 billion to the country's GDP and create more than 500,000 jobs each year in the next decade.

Bali, especially, hosts one of the country’s largest Hindu populations and is socially less conservative than the rest of the Muslim-majority Indonesia, thus making it a popular tourist hub, especially for western visitors. However, this move is not unexpected given rising Islamic radicalism. In 2019, the country was set to pass a previous draft of the code, but the government did not go through with it because of nationwide protests. What is more, similar strict laws rooted in the Islamic principle of Shariah are not uncommon in regions of Indonesia with a Muslim-majority such as Sumatra and Aceh. For instance, in 2021, a gay couple was denounced by their neighbours for having sex and were subjected to a public caning of 77 lashes each by a police officer. These kinds of incidents in recent times have had international organisations questioning Indonesia’s secular status. With even the most conservative of Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia becoming less conservative, this move is very disappointing, especially from a country like Indonesia, which boasts a diverse religious population. This also comes in the troubling wake of the protests in Iran, which is disconcerting and puts Indonesia squarely in dangerous territory.

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Tags: freedom human rights indonesia draconian radicalisation hindu minority criminal code islamism sharia new draft free speech muslim majority


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