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The legal change that could destroy tourism in Bali - no sex if unmarried

The legal change that could destroy tourism in Bali – no sex if unmarried

Unmarried tourists who have sex in Bali could be jailed under draconian new laws being considered by Indonesia‘s parliament.

And western embassies in Jakarta are considering issuing fresh travel warnings to their nationals about visiting Indonesia if, as expected, the laws are passed by the parliament by the end of the month.

The changes are part of sweeping update of Indonesia‘s penal code that began in 1995.

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Other changes to Indonesian law that have been listed in the bill include making it illegal to criticise the president (a law struck down by the Constitutional Court in 2006), spread communist ideology, making it illegal for couples who aren’t married to live together, banning the display of contraception to a minor, curbing access to abortion and criminalising fake news, bestiality and black magic.

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Professor Tim Lindsey, who is the director of the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society, said the current parliament seemed to be in an “insane rush” to pass into law a new criminal code that was “highly regressive”.

“The extra marital sex provision is new to Indonesia, it will create huge problems for foreigners if it’s enforced, though Indonesia is awash with laws that are never enforced,” he said.

“Will tourists have to take marriage certificates to Indonesia? This also exposes foreigners to extortion.

It would be easy for a police officer in Bali to say you aren’t married, you have to pay me. That’s a quite likely scenario.

The legal changes were the result of a growing “moral panic” and increasing conservatism in the majority Muslim country, Lindsey said, that had also snared gay and lesbian couples and other minority groups.

Colin Singer, the chairman of NGO Indonesia International Initiatives, said the proposed laws could result in foreign tourists who d a hotel room with someone they were not married to “receiving a free holiday in Kerobokan prison”.


The draft version of the law outlines a maximum jail period of up to six months, though other drafts have suggested jail time of up to one year.

Teuku Taufiqulhad, an Indonesian MP, told Reuters when asked if the new laws would apply to tourists that it was “no problem, as long as people don’t know”.

Human Rights Watch Indonesia researcher Andreas Harsono said he believed the laws would be passed though “I hope I am wrong. We are lobbying multiple parties to try and stop this”.

If passed, he said, it would be a couple of years before the laws were enforced.

Aaron Connelly, a research fellow at Singapore’s International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the legal changes could have a massive impact on tourism to Bali and other parts of Indonesia at a time when President Joko Widodo is trying to promote a “ten new Balis” strategy to encourage visitors to travel to other parts of Indonesia.

“European missions in Jakarta have privately informed members of the DPR [the national parliament] that they will have to update their travel warnings and there will be a flood of bad press. That advice has been dismissed,” he said.

“I don’t think these legislators understand that although these laws largely won’t be applied to foreigners, they don’t get that it will have an effect on tourism.”

Lindsey said that “of course” foreign missions, including Australia, would update their travel advice because “it’s a very real risk and they will have to warn the more than one million Aussies who travel there each year”.

President Joko had the power to issue an emergency regulation to stop the laws coming into effect, Lindsey said, but he “hadn’t shown a lot of courage recently” and that meant the Constitutional Court was likely the last chance to strike down the laws.


In Denpasar, British tourist Rose Hughes and her boyfriend Jake Rodgers – who are on holidays from Norwich in the UK – said the legal changes would put her off returning to Bali.

“I understand if we can’t hold hands or kiss in a temple or religious places. But I don’t want to worry about doing something, a normal thing back home, and getting in trouble for it.

Yes, I would reconsider coming to Bali,” she said.

Perth woman Kelly Ann, who did not want to provide her last name, said the legal change wouldn’t affect her but added that “I believe those who fall into this category will not come.

We will come again next year but it [Bali] will lose some people”.

Ida Bagus Agung Partha Adnyana, the head of Bali’s tourism board, played down the implications of the new laws for foreign tourists.

“We are not worried, the law requires a person to report such case. As a tourism destination we have to also observe international law.

Overseas, often [civil] partnerships instead of marriage is the norm,” he said.

“Bali has always welcomed all tourists, we will continue to do so, even with a new penal code.