Emma Connors – The Indonesian government has urged foreigners to read the fine print in proposed legislative changes that appear to enable prosecution of same-sex relationships and sex between unmarried couples.
Reports that tourists could face jail triggered a flood of inquiries from anxious consulates in Jakarta. Indonesian MP Arsul Sani said most inquiries had focused on same-sex relationships, but he noted that the relevant article of law has existed since the Dutch colonial period.
The MP, a member of the Special Committee on the Criminal Code Bill, urged people to read the full explanation of each legal article. "If you only read the article, you will be misled," he said.
"What was regulated earlier was an obscene act against the opposite sex, when men molested women. Now it is not permissible for men to molest men or for women to molest women in public, then upload it on social media."
Cohabitation, or living together while unmarried, was "not in our community culture", Mr Sani said, but it would only be a criminal act if a complaint was made.
Foreign tourists need not worry about coming to Indonesia, he said, "as long as you don't behave lewdly in a public space or upload lewd acts on social media".
Adrian Vickers, Professor of Southeast Asian Studies at Sydney University, said the Criminal Code Bill was vaguely worded and left plenty of room for interpretation.
"It may well be the case that no tourist would be prosecuted but, on the other hand, if a local authority wanted to get very enthusiastic and throw their weight around, they could use that law to do so."
Other examples of ambiguity in the omnibus bill included a change in law that would make it illegal to criticise the President and which could be used to censor media, Professor Vickers said.
When it comes to restricting tourists, Gordon Tanner, sales and marketing manager at the Melbourne-based Bali Tours thinks economic considerations will trump ideology. "Bali is Indonesia's cash cow. They wouldn't cut it off."
After 40 years in business, Bali Tours has seen business to the island ebb and flow but so far rumours that the central government in the Muslim-majority nation would seek to impose conservative standards on tourists have remained just that.
"Just last year we heard speculation tourists were going to be forced to cover up on the beaches but it never happened,"
Bali will remain top of the tourism charts, Mr Tanner predicted. "Tourists are getting a bit more adventurous and looking at other Asian markets but Bali continues to tick all the boxes."
– With Natalia Santi