Indonesia’s government yesterday summoned a United Nations official for a diplomatic dressing-down after the organization expressed concerns that the country’s recently revised criminal code could undermine a wide range of civil liberties.
Its parliament approved the new penal code last week, amid protests by student groups and civil liberties activists. Among the many controversial revisions were the addition of articles penalizing cohabitation and sex before marriage, bans on insults against the president and state institutions.
In a short and cautiously worded statement late last week, the local U.N. office expressed its worries that “several articles in the revised Criminal Code contravene Indonesia’s international legal obligations concerning human rights.” It also cited the possible impacts of the new code on privacy and press freedom.
According to a report by Reuters, Teuku Faizasyah, a foreign ministry spokesperson, said that the ministry summoned Valerie Julliand, the U.N. resident coordinator in Jakarta, over the comment, saying her office should have consulted with the government before criticizing it publicly.
“They should have come to consult, just like other international representatives. We hope they do not hasten to express views, or when there’s not enough information,” he was quoted by Reuters as saying.
Many observers are aligned with the U.N. in pointing to the worrying aspects of the criminal code, which also contains highly elastic provisions banning the spreading of fake news and any views that contradict the state ideology of Pancasila, and a number of “morality clauses” that evince a conservative Islamic conception of social norms.
In a statement last week, the international advocacy group Human Rights Watch stated that “Indonesia’s human rights situation has taken a drastic turn for the worse.”
“Indonesia’s new criminal code contains oppressive and vague provisions that open the door to invasions of privacy and selective enforcement that will enable the police to extort bribes, lawmakers to harass political opponents, and officials to jail ordinary bloggers,” Andreas Harsono, a senior Indonesia researcher at HRW, said in the statement.
In addition to showing that the “Asian values” debate is very far from dead – Indonesian officials say that the revised criminal code aims to uphold “Indonesian values” and have pushed back against any notion of a universal standard – Jakarta’s response to the U.N. statement reflects the bad press that has followed the code’s passing.
The law has attracted more negative attention than the Indonesian government was likely expecting, and officials have rushed to clarify some aspects of the law. In particular, they have sought to assure potential foreign tourists in light of the rash of international headlines about the provision prohibiting sex before marriage, a charge which can only be brought by close relatives.
“Based on the provisions of the new Indonesian criminal code, visitors who visit or live in Bali would not need to worry,” Balinese governor Wayan Koster said in a statement yesterday. He added that there would be “no checks on marital statuses at tourist accommodations like hotels, villas, guest houses or spas, or inspections by public officials or community groups.”