INDONESIA: Indonesia’s recently enacted criminal code could have a negative effect on the tourism industry and investments in the nation as the hospitality industry continues to struggle to recover from the devastating COVID-19 pandemic.
On Tuesday, the Indonesian parliament passed a controversial revision to the country’s penal code that makes having extramarital sex a crime. The revised code applies to local residents as well as foreign expats, including tourists.
The controversial laws, which some have dubbed a “disaster” for human rights, also prohibit unmarried couples from cohabitating and impose restrictions on people’s freedoms of speech and worship.
This week there were demonstrations in Jakarta, and legal challenges to the laws are anticipated.
Although the revisions are not anticipated to kick in for at least another three years, industry insiders warn that the new criminal law may discourage international travellers and damage the nation’s reputation abroad, depriving it of crucial tourism profits.
The new code has been widely reported in nearby Australia, where some news journals have called it “Bali won’t bank.”
Critics are concerned not only about the heavier penalties but also about the law’s wider application.
A researcher with Human Rights Watch said that there could be situations when the new code “will be a problem.”
Indonesia’s tourism industry to suffer another “blow”
Indonesia’s economy heavily relies on tourism, as the country’s archipelago generates more than 5% of its GDP through this sector and because of the pandemic, Indonesia witnessed a huge drop in visitors.
Now, as the pandemic subsides, every month, international travellers flock back to Bali, a tropical island, to enjoy the warm weather, indulge in cheap Bintang beer, and party all night on the beaches, prompting hopes that Indonesia’s pummelling tourism sector is on the way to recovery.
But the revised code has knocked down all the hopes of visitors, as the new law includes laws against the cohabitation of unmarried couples that could implicate the tourism business.
Hotel rooms for unmarried couples may no longer be available. Since Indonesia does not recognise same-sex marriage, there are additional worries that same-sex couples may be impacted.
Expatriates who are not married run the risk of breaking new regulations if they cohabitate. Both tourists and foreigners have expressed alarm over this.
Kiwi expats claim that while there is a lot of worry coming from abroad, the tone is more subdued among island-based tour operators.
“People are really anxious, and many are considering cancelling their vacations,” said expat Matt, who owns a catering business.
However, Bali cannot afford for its tourism industry to suffer another blow.
Yoman, a tour guide who has worked in Bali since 2017, told the media that the new restrictions may have a “very severe” impact throughout Indonesia, but particularly on the tourist island.
He said, “I am very, very worried because I really depend on tourism.”
The Indonesia Institute, a non-governmental organisation with headquarters in Perth, estimates that a record 1.23 million Australian tourists travelled to Bali in 2019.
In contrast, Statistica’s statistics show that in 2021, only 51 foreign visitors came to the island over the entire year due to the pandemic.
Though tourism in Indonesia is growing, In July 2022, the Indonesian National Statistic Bureau reported over 470,000 international visitors arriving in the nation, the greatest amount since the COVID-19 travel restrictions were relaxed in October last year.
The top five nations that contribute the most to the Indonesian economy are Australia, Malaria, China, and Singapore, followed by India in sixth place.
What’s in the “revised” code?
The new criminal code’s Article 411 says that cohabitation carries a six-month jail sentence and that having sex outside of marriage carries a one-year sentence.
However, allegations of adultery must be based on police reports filed by a spouse, parent, or child.
President Joko Widodo of Indonesia still needs to approve the updated criminal code, and it won’t likely go into effect for at least three more years.
Both natives and visitors, especially vacationers visiting places like Bali and other places, are bound by the rules.
The old 1918 law said that only the offended spouse could file a complaint.
The old law defined adultery as having sexual relations with a person who is not the man’s wife.
In contrast to the recently introduced one-year punishment, the old law’s sentence was nine months. The updated law specifically targets unmarried couples.
The updated criminal code has been decades in the making, and while Indonesian legislators are celebrating their accomplishment in reforming outdated Dutch colonial rules, critics claim that this law is only one of several that aim to limit people’s political and social freedom in the country.
The law was passed in response to an earlier anti-blasphemy law that imposed a five-year prison sentence for violating any of Indonesia’s six officially recognised religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.
Additionally, individuals may receive a four-year sentence for promoting communism and a 10-year prison sentence for associating with groups that uphold Marxist-Leninist ideology.