A newly approved legislation that criminalizes extramarital sex in Indonesia has caused concern worldwide, with many governments worried for their citizens who frequent the country for tourism. The newly ratified criminal code consists of 37 chapters and 624 articles. It will come into force at least three years from the date of passage, in 2025. The code awaits the president’s approval.

Along with punishing sex and co-habitation outside marriage with jail terms, the code also outlaws “defamation” of the president and state institutions and expands the definition of blasphemy. As it applies to “everyone,” there is also concern about it affecting foreign tourists.

Indonesia is a major tourist attraction, with its resort island of Bali attracting over 6 million visitors in 2019, right before the pandemic. Most tourists hail from neighboring Australia. (Also Read | Indonesia bill barring extramarital sex gets renewed debate)

What did Australia say about the new legislation?

The Australian government said it was seeking “further clarity” on the new law, stressing there was time for this as it would not come into force for three years.

A foreign affairs spokeswoman said that Australian officials would assess the risks the new legislation might pose on Australians overseas.

Indonesian authorities have thus far stressed that the law would not affect foreign tourists visiting the country. Drafts leaked in the media suggest prosecution would only take place if those engaging in extramarital sex are reported by immediate relatives.

However, many rights activists have warned that if a foreigner is engaged in a relationship with a local, they could be subject to the legislation. (Also Read | Why India should be on your 2023 travel bucket list)

At the most fundamental level, the new criminal code applies for the country and those within it.

Potential impact on human rights and fundamental freedoms

The US also said it was “closely monitoring” the situation. State Department Spokesman Ned Price told a press briefing on Tuesday that there was concern regarding the impact of the legislation on US citizens visiting and living in Indonesia.

Price also added that the US was “concerned regarding how these changes could impact the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Indonesia.”

Indonesia’s tourism industry took a severe blow during the pandemic. However, the vital sector is already starting to show signs of recovery.

Earlier this month, the Indonesian statistical agency reported that almost 4 million foreign tourists had visited in 2022 between January and October, an increase of more than 200% on the first 10 months of the previous year.

Indonesian authorities tried to recover from the pandemic woes by introducing a digital nomad visa, where anyone with the equivalent of at least $130,000 in the bank is eligible for a visa, entitling them to live in Bali for up to 10 years.

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