RKUHP: Indonesia’s proposed new criminal code has a conservative slant, but should we be worried?

Photo: Tori Rector/Flickr
Photo: Tori Rector/Flickr

The House of Parliament (DPR) looks set to overhaul the country’s colonial-era Criminal Code (KUHP) this week, and the question on everybody’s mind seems to be: will we get effed for effing around?

The answer is probably yes, but there’s more nuance to it than what recent international headlines — many of which are but slight variations of “Indonesia set to ban sex outside marriage” — suggest.

The final draft of the bill to revise KUHP (RKUHP) was released last week ahead of its expected ratification by DPR in a plenary session on Dec. 6. Some of the most contentious articles in regards to the potential erosion of our civil liberties contain jail time for:

  • Insulting the president or vice president (3-4 years)
  • Insulting the government or state institutions (1.5-3 years)
  • Adultery, or sexual intercourse not between a husband and a wife (1 year)
  • Cohabitation (6 months)

These articles certainly have quite an alarming conservative slant, and many experts have lambasted RKUHP as a huge regression for Indonesian democracy.

Without defending the bill (and we shouldn’t support anything that gives authorities greater powers to police our thoughts and morality), the final draft of RKUHP is at least a dialed down version of previous drafts in its decades of development limbo.

Heavy punishments for defamation and libel already exist in KUHP, and one may argue that the articles are open to even wider interpretation in their current form. For example, one is now able file a defamation lawsuit on behalf of an offended party, which, under KUHP, could see the offender jailed for up to four years. This has indeed been used to clap back against insults directed at the powers that be.

Under RKUHP, in terms of defamation against the government, only the offended party, be it the president or the vice president for instance, can file a police report against the offender. We hope we would never appoint a leader so insecure that they would need to sue a citizen for slander.

The articles on defamation in RKUHP also contain crucial clauses that the government says were inserted to protect freedom of speech and expression. RKUHP make exemptions for expressions made in self-defense or those made “in the public’s interest” — such as through demonstration or open criticism against government policies.

Related

RKUHP: Online defamation to be removed from UU ITE in Criminal Code overhaul, official says
The Indonesian government is keen on preserving freedom of speech and expression, an official said, ahead of an anticipated major overhaul to the country’s Criminal Code (KUHP). Read more.
RKUHP: Online defamation to be removed from UU ITE in Criminal Code overhaul, official says
The Indonesian government is keen on preserving freedom of speech and expression, an official said, ahead of an anticipated major overhaul to the country’s Criminal Code (KUHP). Read more.

As for RKUHP’s moral AKA crotch policing, only close relatives (spouse, parents, or children) can report people for adultery and cohabitation. If that sounds familiar, that’s because similar articles already exist in KUHP.

It’s interesting to note that the government has stressed that the reporting requirement is a strict one in RKUHP, meaning law enforcement agencies, like the Public Order Agency (Satpol PP), will no longer be permitted by law to carry out morality raids on matters related to sex.

Of course, in an ideal world, we would be better off without any form of control of our lives in the bedroom and beyond, provided that they are conducted between consenting adults.

But with the political popularity of religious conservatism in Indonesia in recent years, these articles were never going to fully disappear from RKUHP. As such, this may be the best and mildest version of moral policing the country may have to compromise with.

RKUHP is far from perfect. If it finally gets ratified this week, we will have three years to file constitutional challenges against it before the law comes into effect.



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