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Jakarta Post

A more draconian law?

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, September 4, 2019   /   09:11 am
A more draconian law? According to the latest available draft, for which lawmakers and the government say they are still seeking public input, the new law would once again make criticism of the president a criminal offense and introduce other threats to freedom of expression. (JP/Budhi Button)

Nearing the end of its sitting period, the House of Representatives still has a long list of priority bills before the new batch of lawmakers, including reelected ones, is installed on Oct. 1.

The astounding list of more than 200 bills during the 2015-2019 term includes dozens that affect our daily lives, including bills on land, cyber safety and defense and on water resources.

Recent waves of demonstrations have pushed for the passing of a law on sexual violence, in light of numerous reports of harassment and sexual violence in public areas and in the workplace.

Deliberation of the amendment to the Criminal Code, a legacy from colonial times, is probably record-breaking as it has been going on since the 1960s.

So with the persisting controversy, and an abundance of “priority bills” to choose from, why are politicians and the government pushing for the amended Criminal Code to be passed by Sept. 24, near the end of the House’s term?

The statements of lawmakers and Law and Human Rights Ministry officials suggest that finally passing the amended Criminal Code after five decades of deliberation would be their signature legacy.

But what kind of legacy will it be if they pass a bill perceived to be more draconian than the current century-old Criminal Code?

According to the latest available draft, for which lawmakers and the government say they are still seeking public input, the new law would once again make criticism of the president a criminal offense and introduce other threats to freedom of expression.

Aspects of privacy, consensual sex between unmarried couples, cohabitation, abortion and promotion of contraceptives will also be criminalized if the bill is passed. The bill also allows for a “living law in the community”, which includes traditional laws of indigenous people that would define criminal punishment for certain acts.

In line with observations that Indonesian political parties lack discerning ideologies, the factions in the House are so far generally on board regarding the contentious vague issues.

This leaves us — the public and the media — out in the cold, as we will be treading ever so cautiously as if we never left the bygone authoritarian era.

Securing constitutional guarantees of civil liberties was a major step forward in the post-Soeharto period. Under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo we now have to face the hard reality that democracy is a slow project, with even the “man of the people” being wary of political interests around him, to keep his seat.

In the remaining time before Sept. 24, we must continue to remind our leaders and politicians that securing freedoms was not for the sake of imitating Western values of freedom, particularly as trashing “Western imports” and pushing for the regulation of morality have been used as popular vote-getters.

Ensuring people’s rights to privacy and other civil rights is a matter of survival. Fears of moral decadence and excessive freedom of speech cannot be solved by resorting to a potentially authoritarian nanny state.

So delay the passing of the amended Criminal Code for the sake of the greater good.