Indonesia's president delays vote on new criminal code

Cutout and portraits of Indonesian President Joko Widodo are displayed at a stall that sells portraits of Indonesian leaders, in Jakarta, Indonesia, Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. Widodo has asked lawmakers to delay a vote on a proposed new criminal code amid critics saying that the bill contains articles that may discriminate against minorities and violate freedom of speech.(AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)
A vendor shows a cutout of Indonesian President Joko Widodo at his stall that sells portraits of Indonesian leaders, in Jakarta, Indonesia, Friday, Sept. 20, 2019. Widodo has asked lawmakers to delay a vote on a proposed new criminal code amid critics saying that the bill contains articles that may discriminate against minorities and violate freedom of speech. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana)

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia's president urged lawmakers on Friday to delay a vote on a proposed new criminal code amid mounting criticism of the bill, which opponents say threatens democracy and discriminates against minorities.

Updating Indonesia's criminal code, a legacy of the Dutch colonial era, has taken more than two decades. A parliamentary task force finalized the 628-article bill on Sept. 15 and lawmakers are slated to vote on it on Sept. 24.

President Joko Widodo said he made the decision after considering public concerns. He said the bill should not be decided on by members of the current House of Representatives, whose terms end in early October, and deliberations should be conducted by the new lawmakers.

"After learning the inputs from society, I concluded, there are some materials that needed further study," Widodo told reporters at the presidential palace in the capital, Jakarta.

"I hope the House shares the same stance on this matter ... that the passing of the criminal code bill into law should be postponed."

Critics say the bill contains articles that may violate the rights of women, religious minorities, lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people, as well as the freedoms of speech and association.

Widodo said he has ordered the minister of law and human rights, Yasonna Laoly, to meet with lawmakers to convey his decision and hopes they will approve.

He said he has also instructed Laoly to obtain the input of various communities while discussing the substance of the articles with the new lawmakers.

A copy of the draft bill obtained by The Associated Press includes several revised articles penalizing adultery, sex outside marriage, cohabitation, abortion and the promotion of contraception. The bill also restores a ban on insulting the president that had been repealed by the Constitutional Court.

The bill punishes extramarital sex by up to a year in jail, while the current code says only that married couples can be prosecuted for sex outside marriage based on police reports lodged by their spouse or children.

The bill could effectively criminalize all same-sex relations and subject sex workers to criminal prosecution.

It states that couples who live together without being married can be sentenced to six months in jail and criminalizes "obscene acts" in public with up to six months' imprisonment.

It also expands a current Blasphemy Law and maintains a 5-year prison term for deviations from the central tenets of Indonesia's six recognized religions — Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism.

Rights activists say more than 150 people, most of them religious minorities, including former Jakarta Gov. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, have been convicted under the 1965 Blasphemy Law.

Citizens could face a 10-year sentence under the bill for associating with organizations that follow Marxist-Leninist ideology and a four-year sentence for spreading communism.

Rights activists and civic groups have warned that some articles would lead to criminalization of normal activities and threaten freedom of expression and the right to privacy.

Human Rights Watch said Wednesday that Parliament should substantially revise the bill to meet international human rights standards.

"Lawmakers should remove all the abusive articles before passing the law," said Andreas Harsono, a senior Indonesia researcher at the group.

He said laws penalizing criticism of public leaders are contrary to international law, and the fact that some forms of expression are considered insulting is not sufficient to justify restrictions or penalties.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation, is an outpost of democracy in a Southeast Asian neighborhood of authoritarian governments.

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