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Indonesian President Delays Bill Outlawing Extramarital Sex

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  • 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.

Supporters

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. 

Opponents

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)

International

Thousands Protest in Algeria Over “Sham” Election

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  • Massive protests have broken out all over Algeria, which is holding its first election since its president stepped down in April after weeks of demonstrations.
  • Protests have been ongoing since February, with demonstrators calling for a complete overhaul of the entire political system.
  • The protestors have called for a boycott of the election, saying it is a sham and that fair elections cannot be held while the ruling elite and military are in power.

Continuous Protests

Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Algeria on Thursday, calling for boycotts of the presidential election.

Protestors say that the election is a sham and that free and fair elections cannot be held as long as the ruling elite and the military are still in power.

Algerians have been holding weekly peaceful protests since February after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced that he would run for a fifth term. 

Bouteflika had already been president for two decades, but ever since he suffered a stroke in 2013, he rarely made public appearances.

According to reports, he had basically left the day-to-day running of the country to a very secretive group of his own relatives and senior military officials.

After weeks of protests, Bouteflika eventually resigned in April when his military chief, Ahmed Gaid Salah, called for a constitutional provision to be activated that would deem the president unfit to rule.

Salah became the de facto leader of the country, and Bouteflika appointed Abdelkader Bensalah as interim president and Nouredine Bedoui as interim prime minister until elections could be held in 90 days.

The protests did not stop after Bouteflika stepped down. Instead, the protestors called for the new leaders to step down too, and for the military to give up control of the government.

They argued that the leaders were part of the corrupt old regime and had benefitted from Bouteflika’s rule. Because of that, they felt nothing would change as long as they held power or controlled the elections.

When the military scheduled new elections for July, protestors demanded that they cancel them. Eventually, the military agreed to the protestors’ demands and called off the elections, though they later rescheduled them for December 12.

But the leaders still refused to give up power, and with the lack of actual structural change, the demonstrations continued. 

New Elections & Protests

After the second election date was announced, protestors called for the December elections to be canceled until there could be a complete overhaul of the political system.

Those demands became even more heightened after the government announced that all five of the presidential candidates it had chosen had ties to Bouteflika or his regime, with four of them having served as ministers under him.

For the protestors, not only has there been no political reforms, all of their options for president are people tied to the regime. 

On top of that, because the interim leaders’ have ties to Bouteflika, many protestors believe that they cannot be trusted to hold a free and transparent election— a concern that has been even more legitimized by the fact that the government denied the protestors’ demand to have independent supervision of the election.

Still, the leadership and the military have refused to cancel the election, arguing that it is the only way forward and the only way to achieve political stability.

“The election of December 12th constitutes a historic opportunity for our citizens who are committed to democracy and social justice, and to building the rule of law institutions to which our people aspire,” Interim President Bensalah said in a statement Wednesday.

When it was clear the government had no plans to cancel the election, protestors became even more energized and took to the streets to call for a boycott of the election altogether.

Thousands of people demonstrated in the capital Algiers on the day of the election, where they were reportedly heard chanting: “There is no vote today,” “Independence,” and “No vote with the mafia.”

The protestors were met by riot police, who reportedly clashed with the demonstrators and violently dispersed the crowds.

In some cities, it has been reported that protestors stormed polling places. One video showed people throwing ballot boxes to the ground and tossing ballots in the air. Police have also responded with tear gas in some places.

According to reports, voter turnout has been extremely low, sitting at only 33% by 5 p.m. local time, with just two hours left of polling. Around 24 million people are eligible to vote.

The results are expected to be announced on Friday. In order to win the election, a candidate must get more than 50% of the votes. If no candidate receives 50% or more, the two leading candidates go to a runoff in a few weeks.

See what others are saying: (Al Jazeera) (The Wall Street Journal) (BBC)

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How Police Deal With Protests and Riots All Over the World…

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Throughout the world, from Hong Kong to Lebanon, and Chile to Iraq, there have been large-scale protests where millions have demanded changes in their societies. A few things have been consistent; nearly all started as peaceful protests, and nearly all of them have devolved into violence between protesters and police. But in ideal scenarios, police doctrines officially try to avoid violence, so how do these situations happen? Sometimes protesters get out of hand, but often poorly trained riot police and a cavalier “us versus them” attitude can be the catalyst for violence.

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Myanmar’s Leader Defends 2017 Operation That Killed Thousands of Muslims

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  • Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, defended her country before the United Nations, saying it had not acted with genocidal intent in a 2017 operation that resulted in the deaths of 24,000 minority Muslims.
  • Suu Kyi’s comments come as she faces increasing criticism for being complicit with the Myanmar military’s action. 
  • Previously, Suu Kyi had won a Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts in promoting democracy.

Suu Kyi Defends Myanmar

Speaking before the United Nation’s International Court of Justice, Myanmar’s Leader defended the state against accusations that it acted with genocidal intent in a 2017 operation that led to the deaths of more than 24,000 minority Muslims.

Aung San Suu Kyi—a Nobel Peace laureate and Myanmar’s State Counselor, a role akin to a prime minister—had previously been heralded as an icon for democracy, though that status has slipped in recent years. Though she has no power over the military, her handling of the operation has led to criticism that she is being “complicit.”

Suu Kyi’s comments come a day after hearing horribly graphic testimony of what happened to the Rohingya Muslims during that operation.

During the hearing, she described the case brought by the Republic of The Gambia and a dozen other majority-Muslim countries as  “incomplete and incorrect.” 

She then referred to the situation an “internal armed conflict” and argued that the military had pursued an extremist threat, saying Rohingya militants had attacked government security posts.

Though she did admit that Myanmar’s military might have used too much force at times—including admitting that the army had used military gunships on civilians—she also argued that any soldiers who committed war crimes would be prosecuted.

She went on to say that since the country is investigating war criminals, the state could not be accused of genocide.

“Can there be genocidal intent on the part of the state that actively investigates, prosecutes and punishes soldiers and officers, who are accused of wrongdoing?” she said in The Hague on Wednesday. “Although the focus here is on members of the military, I can assure you that appropriate action will also be taken on civilian offenders, in line with due process.” 

However, in May, seven Myanmar soldiers were released from jail early after being accused of killing 10 Rohingya men. On top of that, the military also previously cleared itself of any previous wrongdoing in the killings.

Suu Kyi also told the court that Myanmar was committed to helping Rohingya refugees return to their homes in Rakhine. Notably, she then urged the court to stop short of any action that might make the conflict worse.

Expectedly, many Rohingya refugees watching Suu Kyi’s defense on live TV shouted that she was a liar. Others also chanted, “Shame on you!” They then carried those words into the streets and were met by about 250 pro-Myanmar protesters who said they stood with Suu Kyi.

Why is Myanmar in Court?

On August 25, 2017, the Burmese army—Myanmar’s armed forces—undertook a massive operation in the northern state of Rakhine.

Though Myanmar is predominantly a Buddhist nation, a significant Muslim population lived in the area. That minority, known as Rohingya Muslims, has been denied citizenship by Myanmar, and the country considers them to be illegal immigrants.

The operation to clear the Rohingya from the area led to the deaths of 24,000 people and the mass relocation of an estimated 915,000 to the neighboring country of Bangladesh. In March, the government of Bangladesh announced that it would stop taking in Rohingya refugees. Meanwhile, in Rakhine, whole villages sit empty.

In October, The Gambia’s attorney general, Ba Tambadou told the BBC he decided to launch a case against Myanmar after visiting a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh. There, he said he heard of killings, torture, and even rape during the operation.

In its submission, The Gambia claims the operation was “intended to destroy the Rohingya as a group, in whole or in part,” by means mass murder, rape and setting fire to buildings, “often with inhabitants locked inside.”

The UN then led a fact-finding mission and found such compelling evidence that it decided to take up the case to investigate the Burmese army.

Myanmar soldiers “routinely and systematically employed rape, gang rape and other violent and forced sexual acts against women, girls, boys, men and transgender people,” the report found in August.

For its part, The Gambia says it is only asking that Myanmar “stop these senseless killings” and “stop these acts of barbarity.”

How Will All of This End?

The ICJ’s first phase of hearings will conclude Thursday; however, the case is expected to be drawn out over the course of several years. 

“The final judgment can take a long time [of up to five years], but for victims and their communities, it’s an incredible moment,” a human rights expert told Al Jazeera. “This sends a very strong message to the Rohingya that the international community is watching and listening to them.”

Currently, The Gambia is only asking that the ICJ impose “provisional measures” that protect Rohingya in Myanmar and other countries.

Even if the court were to rule that Myanmar did break genocide laws, neither Suu Kyi nor any generals involved in the operation would be automatically arrested and put on trial.

On Tuesday, the U.S. responded by stiffening sanctions against several senior military commanders in Myanmar.

“The United States will not tolerate torture, kidnapping, sexual violence, murder or brutality against innocent civilians,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (Al Jazeera) (The New York Times)

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