- The President of Indonesia tabled a vote on a proposed penal code that would outlaw sex outside of marriage. The legislation will now be pushed to a new parliament set to convene in October.
- The vote was delayed after it received widespread backlash from legal experts, human rights activists, and Indonesians, many of whom believed it was an overextension of conservative Islamic policies.
- The legislation included other provisions that would limit freedom of speech, reduce rights for religious minorities, and significantly restrict women’s reproductive rights.
- Gay and lesbian sex would also be functionally criminalized under the new penal code, as gay marriage is not allowed in Indonesia.
Widodo Halts Vote
Indonesian President Joko Widodo delayed a vote on a controversial new penal code Friday that, among other things, would criminalize both gay and premarital sex.
The bill was expected to be passed by parliament as early as next week, but Widodo asked lawmakers to postpone the legislation following significant public outcry. The bill will now be held until a new parliament is seated in October.
“After hearing from various groups with objections to aspects of the law, I’ve decided that some of it needs further deliberation,” the president said in a press briefing, before adding that the bill needed further review.
If passed, the new penal code would be a massive overhaul to existing legal systems.
Provisions of the Law
One provision would have punished any instance of sex outside of marriage with six months to a year in jail as well as fines. Though not explicitly stated in the law, it would also effectively outlaw gay and lesbian sex entirely, because Indonesia does not allow same-sex marriages.
According to the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, a nongovernmental organization, millions of Indonesians could risk being jailed under the new law.
Under another article, unmarried couples living together could face up to six months in prison and fines.
The code also included measures that would restrict women’s reproductive rights. Receiving an abortion outside of the exceptions of medical emergencies or rape could be punishable by a maximum of four years in prison.
The bill would additionally restrict access to contraceptives for minors, as well as impose penalties for promoting contraceptives.
Some proposed provisions would target religious minorities, while others would limit freedom of speech, such as prohibiting anyone from insulting the president, vice president, government, and state agencies.
The new law was supported by conservative Islamic groups, who wish to see more sharia-like laws implemented in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.
“Indonesia has social values, moral values, also cultural values that are different from those in Western countries,” said Arsul Sani, one of the lawmakers who supported the bill, and who belongs to one of the four Islamist parties in Indonesia’s parliament.
“The state must protect citizens from behavior that is contrary to the supreme precepts of God,” said Nasir Djamil, another parliamentarian who supported the bill from a different Islamic party.
Despite its reputation for being a south-east Asian democracy with relatively moderate Muslims populations and Islamic legal systems, Indonesia has seen a recent trend towards deeper religiosity and conservative Islamic policies, especially at the local level.
In some areas, local governments have enforced aspects of sharia law, such as requiring women to wear hijabs and adopting curfews for women unaccompanied by male relatives.
The government’s efforts to implement elements of sharia law at the national level with the proposed penal code have been troubling to Indonesia’s substantial Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist minority populations, as well as many others.
“If passed, the criminal code will confirm that Indonesia is now becoming an Islamic state,” Andreas Harsono, a senior Indonesia researcher at Human Rights Watch said on Twitter.
“Indonesia’s draft criminal code is disastrous not only for women and religious and gender minorities, but for all Indonesians,” Harsono said in a statement to the media. “The bill’s provisions censoring information about contraception could set back the progress Indonesia has made in recent years to dramatically reduce maternal deaths.”
Other experts echoed Harsono’s sentiment about the spread of Islamic conservativism.
“Across the board, this is a ratcheting up of conservatism. It’s extremely regressive,” said Tim Lindsey, the director of the University of Melbourne’s Center for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society.
Beyond legal experts and activists, a large number of Indonesian citizens also voiced their disapproval of the law.
According to Al Jazeera, an online petition for the bill the be thrown out received nearly half a million signatures, and hundreds of thousands of Indonesians voiced their opposition on social media.
Some also argued that the ban on extramarital sex could discourage tourism and foreign investment, as the law would have applied to foreigners.
This could significantly hurt Indonesia, especially at a time when President Widodo is trying to attract foreign investors and expand tourism to other parts of Indonesia beyond Bali, which is a popular spot for Westerners.
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, in 2018, travel and tourism composed 6% of Indonesia’s gross domestic product (GDP) and added 13 million jobs to the economy.
Foreign investors will also likely consider the penal code when deciding where to invest. Some international companies have also expressed concern over how the law would impact their employees in Indonesia.
See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (The New York Times) (Reuters)
ByteDance Lays Off Hundreds of Workers After China’s Private Tutoring Crackdown
Major changes to the massive education industry in China have left many companies scrambling to adapt.
TikTok owner ByteDance laid off hundreds of employees Thursday in response to new Chinese regulations that prohibit private, for-profit tutoring in core curriculum subjects.
These employees worked in ByteDance’s online education businesses, such as GoGokids, which were effectively killed by the new rules. The over 300 workers have been laid off “with compensation,” although it’s unclear just how much compensation they will receive.
The entire education industry, one of the largest in China, was gutted by last month’s new rules, which not only ban private tutoring in the most important subjects but also give preferential treatment to public school students trying to enter China’s top universities.
Some firms, like the $15.5 billion startup known as Yuanfudao, had to largely shut down all marketing while figuring out what to do next. Others have had to shutter nearly all of their facilities. The only exceptions are those that offer tutoring in extra-curricular activities like music, which is still allowed.
Leveling the Playing Field
The move is supposed to help combat inequities within China between wealthier students and those who are poor or from more rural areas. Often, those with fewer resources often struggle to get into top universities because of their need to go to public schools and lack of access to increasingly costly private tutors in subjects like math, Chinese, history, science, and physics.
Those subjects are almost exclusively what Chinese universities look at when considering applicants.
It’s expected that with the ban and preferential treatment to public school students, the percentage of university applicants being accepted will lead to more low-income Chinese people having better opportunities.
Even if the long-term goals have merits, companies like ByteDance and even those outside of China are reeling in the short term.
The new rules not only target for-profit tutoring. They also prohibit most foreign investment into the Chinese education market, bar foreign curriculums, and ban most foreign teachers working in China, effectively shutting off large segments of the worldwide education industry, which catered to sending teachers to China.
See what others are saying: (Reuters) (Financial Times) (The Wall Street Journal)
Police Arrest Hong Kong Man for Booing Chinese National Anthem
The man’s boos were launched during the first time the Chinese national anthem had ever been played for a Hong Kong athlete at the Olympics.
Instulting the Anthem
Hong Kong authorities announced Friday that a man was arrested for allegedly booing and “insulting” the Chinese national anthem while watching the Olympics on Monday.
The unnamed 40-year-old, who identified himself as a journalist, was allegedly watching the Olympics fencing medal ceremony for Hong Konger Edgar Cheung at a local mall. When the anthem began playing, he allegedly began booing and chanted “We are Hong Kong!” while waving a British Hong Kong Colonial flag.
The man’s actions were particularly noteworthy because it was the first time the Chinese national anthem had been played for a Hong Kong athlete in the Olympics. Hong Kongers compete at the Games under a separate committee called Hong Kong, China. The last time a Hong Konger won gold was in 1996 for windsurfing, at which time the British anthem of “God Save the Queen” was played.
Concerns for Freedom of Speech
The man is suspected of breaking the relatively new National Anthem Ordinance, which was passed in June 2020, and has a penalty of up to three years in prison and fines of $6,000 for anyone who publicly and intentionally insults the anthem. The law mirrors one in mainland China, but it has faced considerable scrutiny from increasingly persecuted pro-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong.
They argue that it tramples the right to free speech, which is supposed to be enshrined in the city’s Basic Law. Hong Kong police, however, say that’s not the case and claim that his actions breach common restraints on freedom of speech. Senior Superintendent Eileen Chung said that his actions were “to stir up the hostility of those on the scene and to politicize the sport.”
Police issued a warning that it would investigate reports of others joining his chants or violating the separate National Security law passed last year.
This incident isn’t the only case of alleged politicization of the Games. Badminton player Angus Ng was accused by a pro-Beijing lawmaker of making a statement by sporting a black jersey with the territory’s emblem. The imagery was very similar to the black-and-white Hong Kong flag used by anti-government protesters.
Ng countered that he wore his own clothes to the event because he didn’t have sponsorships to provide jerseys and he wasn’t authorized to print the emblem on a jersey himself.
See what others are saying: (Inside) (Al Jazeera) (CNN)
Canadian Catholic Priest Says Residential Schools Survivors Lied About Abuse
The Roman Catholic Church is facing considerable backlash across Canada for its treatment of indigenous peoples in the residential school system, along with its subsequent efforts to downplay the problem.
Priest Sparks Outrage
Father Rheal Forest was put on forced leave Wednesday following remarks he made over a weeks-long period starting July 10 in which he doubted victims of the country’s infamous residential school system.
Residential schools were a system of schools largely for indigenous children that were mostly run by the Catholic Church with federal government funding. The schools were notoriously cruel and long faced allegations that children had been abused or went missing under their care.
To date, over 1,300 unmarked graves have been found at four former residential schools across Canada, a fraction of the over 130 that used to exist.
Forest, of the St. Boniface archdiocese in Winnipeg, was standing in for a couple of weeks while the main priest at his church was away. During that time, Forest told parishioners that victims of the residential schools, particularly those sexually abused, had lied.
“If [the victims] wanted extra money, from the money that was given to them, they had to lie sometimes — lie that they were abused sexually and, oop, another $50,000,” he said.
“It’s kind of hard if you’re poor not to lie.”
In that same sermon, he also added that during his time with Inuit groups in the north of the country, most had allegedly said they appreciated the residential school system. Instead, he said they blamed any abuses on lay people working at the facilities rather than priests or nuns.
Forest’s comments drew a ton of backlash, prompting the archdiocese to place Forest on leave. A spokesperson for the archdiocese said that the institution “completely disavow” Forest’s comments, adding, “We very much regret the pain they may have caused to many people, not least of course Indigenous people and, more specifically, survivors of the Residential School system.”
Overall, the archdiocese has attempted to apologize to indigenous communities for its part in the residential school system, with Archbishop Albert Legatt saying in a video that the way forward was by “acknowledging, apologizing, and acting” on terms set by indigenous groups.
Church Allegedly Kept Money From Victims
Forest’s views and subsequent dismissal aren’t the only public relations scandal the Roman Catholic Church faces in Canada.
According to documents obtained by CBC News, the Church spent over a decade avoiding paying out money to survivors per a 2005 agreement. At the time, it, alongside the protestant churches that also ran some residential schools, agreed to pay an amount to victims of the schools in the tens of millions.
Instead, according to an internal summary of 2015 court documents, the Catholic Church spent much of that money on lawyers, administration, a private fundraising company, and unapproved loans. It seems that some of this was technically legal, such as a promise to give tens of millions back via “in-kind” services; however, there was no audit completed to confirm that these services actually happened or to prove the alleged value of the services. This led to doubts about whether or not they were done effectively.
The Catholic Church was unique among the signatory churches in the 2005 agreement with its efforts to avoid paying victims. All of the other denominations paid out their sums many years before without issues.
While priests such as Father Forest have supported the Church, there has been internal backlash. Father André Poilièvre, a Saskatoon priest and Order of Canada recipient, said the Church’s actions are “scandalous” and “really shameful,” adding, “It was a loophole. It might be legal, but it’s not ethical.”
With these latest revelations, widespread anger at the Church has triggered allegations that indigenous groups are behind a spree of church burnings across the country.
The entire situation is likely going to continue to smolder as a government commission set up to investigate the schools estimates there will be thousands of more unmarked graves found across Canada.