UN says Indonesia’s revised penal code has wide-ranging implications for rights – The Diplomat

ASEAN Beat | Society | South East Asia

The revised Code, passed by Parliament last week, is expected to radically recalibrate the relationship between rulers and ruled.

Activists hold placards during a rally against Indonesia’s new criminal law in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, Tuesday, December 6, 2022.

Credit: AP Photo/Slamet Riyadi ad

The United Nations has expressed concern over the threat to fundamental freedoms posed by Indonesia’s new Penal Code, joining the thousands who have protested the change in the law over the past week.

Indonesia’s parliament approved the new penal code last week, with senior officials describing it as a move to jettison the country’s colonial-era penal code, inherited from the Dutch before independence in 1945.

In a statement late last week, the UN’s Indonesia office said that “certain provisions” of the new code, which will come into effect after a three-year transition period, appear to be “incompatible” with the various international conventions to which Indonesia belongs a signer.

“The UN is concerned that several articles of the revised Penal Code violate Indonesia’s international legal obligations related to human rights,” the UN said in the statement, which echoed the contents of a letter UN human rights experts sent to the Indonesian government last month to have.

diplomatic letter

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The new Code is so comprehensive and contains so many controversial or worrying provisions that it is difficult to summarize it concisely. Among the changes that drew the most international attention were the creation of new regulations criminalizing cohabitation and sex before marriage and sparking false alarms that foreign tourists vacationing in Bali would be jailed, because they shared a hotel room. (In reality, the charges can only be brought by close relatives of those involved, and their impact will likely hit LGBTQ Indonesians hardest.)

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But human rights activists say the implications of the revised code are likely to be much broader: that it will have far-reaching implications for freedom of expression, privacy, the right to protest and the unrestricted functioning of the press.

Amnesty International Indonesia, the branch of the London-based human rights group, has identified “at least 88 articles” that are broad and “could be misused and misinterpreted by authorities and the public to criminalize those peacefully expressing or exercising their opinions their rights to peaceful assembly and association.”

These include the law’s bans on insulting the President and state institutions. It also requires people to obtain permission to hold protests and bans the dissemination of fake news and any views contrary to Pancasila state ideology.


There are also a variety of ways the code seeks to shift the baseline of Indonesian society toward a conservative religious baseline. In addition to prohibiting premarital sex, these so-called “morality clauses” also include prohibitions on the promotion of contraception to minors and its public promotion by those outside the medical profession, and a prohibition on abortion for non-rape victims. Activists say the laws pose a particular risk to LGBTQ people, who are already threatened by Indonesia’s rising tide of religious conservatism and exclusivism.

The breadth of impact is reflected in the UN statement, which says the new code is likely to “criminalize journalistic work and hamper press freedom”; “discriminate against or act in a discriminatory manner against women, girls, boys and sexual minorities”; “would risk undermining a range of sexual and reproductive health rights and the right to privacy; and would likely “exacerbate gender-based violence and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

It also alleges that certain provisions “pose a risk of violating the rights to freedom of religion or belief and could legitimize negative social attitudes towards members of minority religions or beliefs and lead to acts of violence against them”.

The UN statement was drafted in the characteristically cautious and neutral tones of international human rights language, but the fact that the UN feels the need to intervene speaks to the radical changes heralded by the passage of the new penal code.