Delay in Bill criminalising sex outside marriage divides Indonesians

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - Indonesian President Joko Widodo's decision to delay a planned vote in parliament on a new penal code that would criminalise sex outside marriage and gay sex was met by relief from some but sparked criticism from conservative Muslims who back the new Bill.

The president said earlier on Friday (Sept 20) that 14 articles needed further review by parliament and ordered the vote delayed.

Critics warn the Bill violates free speech rights and discriminates against religious minorities, women and LGBT people.

The Bill also includes penalties for insulting the president's dignity and a four-year jail term for abortions in the absence of a medical emergency or rape.

However, the Bill still has significant support in the world's biggest Muslim-majority country, which has seen a growth in conservative interpretations of Islam.

"Indonesia is not a liberal country," Nasir Djamil, a politician for the Prosperous Justice Party, an Islamic opposition party, said by telephone.

He accused the president of coming under the influence of foreign governments, noting Australia's travel advice warning its citizens of risks they could face from sex outside marriage or same-sex relations in Indonesia if the rules take effect.

Australians are a significant tourist market for Indonesia.

The proposals were described by Indonesia's biggest Muslim group, Nahdlatul Ulama, as a reflection of "the character and the personality of the Indonesian people and the nation".

Conservative groups have emerged as a growing force in secular Indonesia, promoting stricter interpretations of Islam that sometimes make their way into law making.

Euis Sunarti, who advocates for conservative family values, even pressed for the new draft to go further and outlaw all expressions of homosexuality, not just sex.

Rights groups welcomed the delay and urged the president to block the bill altogether.

An online petition started by gender rights activist Tunggal Pawestri calling for the president to veto the "absurd" Bill had been signed by over 560,000 people as of Friday evening.

Amnesty International Indonesia campaigner Puri Kencana Putri urged the president to review articles that call for the death penalty for treason and to review the law on blasphemy, while demanding greater public participation during the deliberation.

Arus Pelangi, an advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people, said it would fight to strike down articles containing "the potential for gross human rights violation, especially against the LGBT community", the head of its legal division Riska Carolina said.

"Regardless of the morality of the majority, the minority has the right to live as citizens in this country and we just want to live quietly," she said.