Protesters hold placards rejecting the draft of a new criminal law during a protest outside the parliament building in Jakarta, Indonesia. Photo by Mast Irham/EPA-EFE
Dec. 6 (UPI) -- Indonesian lawmakers on Tuesday passed a controversial sweeping new criminal code that criminalizes sex outside of marriage, disseminating so-called fake news and attacking the "honor or dignity" of the president or vice president.
The criminal code consists of more than 600 articles, and was passed during a House of Representatives' plenary session Tuesday despite strong opposition from human rights and free speech advocates.
Deputy House Speaker Lodewijk F. Paul attempted to temper unrest on Tuesday remarking after the bill was passed that "if there is dissatisfaction of course there are legal steps that can be taken."
"Tell the Constitutional Court," he said in a statement, while asking the public to "let this process continue."
Paul defended the bill, saying it's more inline with Indonesian culture and law than its previous code, which was developed under Dutch colonial rule that lasted from 1816 to the early 1940s.
"We have a new law based on Indonesian conditions, because the law that we have adhered to so far is a law that still adheres to the law passed by the Dutch East Indies," he said.
A coalition of Indonesian journalist organizations were among those who warned that the new code would have a chilling effect on society, stating that at least 19 articles in the new code have the potential to hinder their work.
Lucky Ireeuw, AJI chairman for the city of Jayapura, the capital of Papua Province, said they reject the code's ratification on the grounds that it will stifle free speech by making journalists fearful of being sent to jail for doing their job.
"This regulation will hinder press freedom in the midst of a democracy," Ireeuw said in a statement.
Along with criminalizing sex outside of marriage with up to a year in prison, the new code also penalizes those who attack the honor or dignity of the president and vice president with a maximum sentence of three years behind bars.
Those who broadcast or disseminate news or information they know to be false and which results in unrest can be sentenced to a maximum prison term of six years while those who publish news "reasonably suspected" to be "a hoax" are to be punished for up to four years.
Andreas Harsono, an Indonesia researcher with Human Rights Watch, said the new laws are "a setback for already declining religious freedom in Indonesia," the world's fourth largest democracy and home to the planet's largest Muslim population.
"The danger of oppressive laws is not that they'll be broadly applied, it's that they provide avenue for selective enforcement," he said.