Indonesia Passes Anti-Pornography Bill

indonesia-passes-porn-law.jpgShouts of “Thank you, God!” erupted inside the Indonesian Parliament
building Thursday after lawmakers passed anti-pornography legislation,
bringing to an end nearly 10 years of debate.

At the same time, at a courthouse across town, Habib Rizieq Shihab,
the leader of the Islamic Defenders’ Front, a group that acts as a sort
of moral militia, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for inciting
violence at a religious tolerance rally in June.

Opponents of the anti-pornography legislation said they were
concerned that groups like the Islamic Defenders’ Front would now be
able to point to the new law, which includes an article allowing “civil
society” to help prevent pornographic acts, as justification for their
often violent  actions.

“This law will only empower vigilante groups like the Defenders’
Front,” said Eva Sundari, a member of the Democratic Party of Struggle,
one of the bill’s most active opponents.

The new law represents a second major victory in the last year for
conservative Muslim groups here. In June, the Indonesian government
severely limited the religious freedom of Ahmadiyah, a Muslim sect that
does not believe Mohammad is the last prophet, after years of lobbying
by organizations like the Islamic Defenders’ Front and the prominent
Council of Ulemas, which was one of the first organizations to call for
the anti-pornography legislation.

Parliament proceeded with the vote despite more than 100 lawmakers,
from two major parties, marching out in protest. The remaining
factions, or about 400 members, voted in favor of the law.

The bill outlaws pornographic acts and images, broadly defining
pornography as “man-made sexual materials in the form of drawings,
sketches, illustrations, photographs, text, voice, sound, moving
pictures, animation, cartoons, poetry, conversations and gestures.” It
also makes illegal public performances which could “incite
sexual desire.”

The bill calls for harsh penalties for those in violation of the
laws. Anyone caught “displaying nudity” in public could spend up to 10
years in prison and be fined up to $500,000. Downloading pornography
from the Internet could net up to four years in prison.

Strong opposition during the last two years forced lawmakers to
soften the legislation somewhat. The current bill has half as many
articles as the original and provides exceptions for tourists wearing
bikinis and other revealing clothing.

The issue has long pitted a small but vocal conservative Islamic
movement against a coalition of moderates, liberals and cultural groups
that fear the laws will infringe on the rights of women and threaten
Indonesia’s cultural diversity.

The bill has particularly enraged populations outside of Java where
some cultural traditions could now be considered pornographic.
Thousands protested this month on the resort island of Bali, a
predominantly Hindu enclave where wood carvings, paintings and other
artwork often have sexual overtones.

The bill, originally drafted in 1999, was resurrected in 2006 by a
prominent Islamic political party after outrage among religious
conservatives that Playboy magazine intended to publish an
Indonesian version.

While the wording of the law has been altered, opponents said the
definition of what was considered pornographic remained virtually
unchanged and questioned the timing of the vote, which comes six months
before national elections are to be held.

“Many of the members are preparing for elections and are looking for
support among the Islamic community,” said Sundari, who was among the
lawmakers who stormed out before the vote. “Now they can point to this
law as evidence that they are supportive of Islamic values.”


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