Bali of Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, made famous by a film adaptation featuring Julia Roberts, may soon be history. The lush Indonesian island of exotic temples and stunning beaches will scare away tourists if Indonesia passes a law that proposes to ban sex outside marriage in the country.
Indonesian parliament is debating a draft revision to the country’s criminal code which proposes jail for up to six months for having sex outside marriage.
The new law will apply to foreigners too which means couples living together in hotels could be charged if they fail to prove they are married.
The news of the revision of the criminal law sent a scare in neighbouring Australia. Nearly a million Australian tourists visit Bali every year.
The Australian government alerted its citizens to the proposed changes in an advisory. “We’ve updated our travel advice to include new information about possible future changes to #Indonesia’s Criminal Code. Changes will only enter into force two years after new legislation is passed,” the government tweeted.
The province of Bali has objected to the revision in the law, fearing a loss in huge revenue that tourism brings. Bali’s official tourism promotion agency has announced its objection to the revision. In 2018, more than six million foreign tourists visited Bali, nearly 40 per cent of all foreign tourists traveling to Indonesia.
The chief of Bali Tourism Board said the revised law might make many travelers uncomfortable when staying at a hotel in Bali or other parts of Indonesia, as they would be required to provide marriage certificates or make other arrangements for their stay. “It will be something that they will take note of, and they will be less inclined to stay in Bali and choose other countries for their holidays,” he said.
Ban on sex outside marriage is not the only revision in criminal code that has worried the provincial tourism agency. Another provision will criminalise those “loitering” on the streets or around public facilities, a charge open to interpretation. A tourism official said this revision would disrupt tourism-related businesses which would have to close early. It can put an end to Bali’s famous nightlife.
The Bali Hotels Association has urged tourists to “stay calm and continue their activities (or planned activities) as usual” amid reports Australians were cancelling their Bali holiday plans.
As concerns and anxiety spread within and outside Bali, President Joko Widodo indefinitely postponed the legislative changes.
But the threat of laws controlling personal lives has not gone away. Increasing Islamic radicalisation in Indonesia, officially a secular country, has led to demands for sharia laws. Though the province of Bali is Hindu-dominated, it will not be exempt from such laws passed by the parliament.
Concerns have been expressed globally over Indonesian blasphemy laws. Though these laws also cover religions other than Islam, most convictions are of those from minority religions.
Two years ago, a top politician Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, popularly known as Ahok, was jailed for blasphemy. A Christian and former governor of Indonesian capital of Jakarta, Ahok was accused of defaming the Quran in a video which was later found to be edited. Ahok had made an appeal to people to not vote along religious lines when he was running for re-election.
Another case that put a spotlight on increasing radicalisation among majority Muslims in Indonesia was of Meiliana, a 44-year-old Chinese Buddhist. She was convicted in 2018 for insulting Islam. She wanted her neighborhood mosque to lower the volume of the call to prayer which she said hurt her ears.
Aceh province already has harsh sharia laws. Sex outside marriage routinely invites caning and flogging and so do gambling, drinking alcohol and homosexuality.
Last week, three couples were publicly caned in Aceh for public display of affection. In front of a mosque in the capital Banda Aceh, as a crowd watched, a masked sharia officer rained down strokes from a rattan cane on the guilty couples who had already served months in prison. One woman winced and fell over from the painful punishment.
In August, a 22-year-old woman and her boyfriend of the same age received 100 strokes each after they were caught having sex. The woman broke down several times due to the pain of the punishment, forcing the sharia officer to stop the caning until she was cleared by a doctor.