Indonesian Ulema Council calls for sex workers and clients to be prosecuted

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In Indonesia, the act of prostitution, specifically the transaction between sex worker and client, is not a crime, as the law only states that pimping or the facilitation of prostitution are punishable by law. But, in light of a recent explosive celebrity prostitution scandal, the country’s highest Islamic clerical body is pushing to change that and set a precedent that would see all actors involved in sex work criminalized.

The East Java chapter of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) is specifically calling for legislators to introduce a law that criminalizes both sex workers and their clients as a deterrent against prostitution.

“So it’s not only the pimps that get tangled with the law. The House of Parliament (DPR) must introduce a law [to criminalize sex workers and clients],” MUI East Java Chairman KH Abdussomad Buchori said during his visit to the East Java Provincial Police headquarters yesterday, as quoted by CNN Indonesia.

Abdussomad added that the MUI is hoping the police will start with prosecuting prostitutes and clients in a recent celebrity prostitution scandal in East Java, which has seen the police investigating two pimps who allegedly have 45 celebrities and over 100 models in their employ as sex workers.

Read: Privacy rights, the other victim in Indonesia’s latest celebrity prostitution scandal

One of the most high profile celebrity prostitution scandals gripped the nation in 2015, in which a man named Robby Abbas was arrested for pimping out several well-known celebrities, earning up to tens of millions of rupiah per day. Robby was sentenced to one year and four months in prison, but neither his clients nor sex workers were ever prosecuted.

The legal system in Indonesia generally treats sex workers as witnesses and victims, and instead of jail time they are often made to take part in social rehabilitation programs instead.

Most human rights organizations advocate against the criminalization of sex work, arguing that it does not eliminate the reasons for it while greatly increasing the risks to sex workers who are forced further underground, which also leads to increased health risks to them and the public.

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