JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia’s parliament on Thursday passed an anti-pornography bill, despite strong opposition from minority groups who consider it a threat to artistic, religious, and cultural freedom.
The anti-porn bill was pushed by a small group of Islamist parties in predominantly Muslim, but officially secular, Indonesia, and its passage was greeted by claps and shouts of “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great” from supporters in parliament.
Indonesia will hold parliamentary and presidential elections next year, and few politicians are willing to risk upsetting the smaller Islamist parties as these could play an important role in forming coalitions.
However, some Indonesians, particularly the Hindu and Christian minorities, see the anti-porn bill as a sign of creeping intolerance when it comes to religious and cultural differences, with the agenda increasingly influenced by hardline Muslim groups.
Balkan Kaplale, head of the parliamentary committee which drafted the bill, said the legislation was necessary given the increasing immorality of Indonesian society, as shown by the rise in adultery cases and use of obscene language.
“If Christians put a suit on dead bodies and Muslims put on a white shroud, why can’t the living do that?” said Kaplale, a member of parliament for President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democrat Party, in a recent interview with Reuters.
“If a husband and wife are in one room, nobody is prohibiting it, because it’s pleasure, but legal. What is being protested is if they are not husband and wife...that must not happen.”
Two members of parliament were fired by their parties in the last year or so, following scandals in which they were caught in adulterous relationships on mobile phone cameras.
Earlier this month, news that a wealthy Muslim cleric had taken a 12-year-old girl as his second wife prompted a public outcry. The matter is under investigation by the authorities.
In the final legislation, pornography is described as “pictures, sketches, photos, writing, voice, sound, moving picture, animation, cartoons, conversation, gestures, or other communications shown in public with salacious content or sexual exploitation that violate the moral values of society.”
Offenders face up to 15 years imprisonment. The maximum penalty for lending or downloading pornographic material is four years in jail or a 2 billion rupiah ($189,600) fine.
The bill, which has been under discussion for years, has sparked protests and acrimonious debate, particularly in predominantly Hindu Bali, a resort island which depends heavily on tourism, because of concerns about the impact on local artists and foreign visitors.
Critics say that the exceptions to the bill for sexually explicit cultural and artistic material are too vague, and that by allowing civil organizations to play a role in preventing pornography, this could open the door for vigilante groups to take the law into their own hands.
It is not just Indonesians who have expressed concerns about the controversial bill. Several foreign governments, including Denmark, the United States, and the Philippines, have sent official letters of enquiry.
“I told them your country has porn bill, so why do you interfere so much here,” Kaplale said.
Editing by Sara Webb and Samjeev Miglani