James Massola and Amilia Rosa, Jakarta – Indonesian President Joko Widodo has asked Parliament to delay passing draconian new laws that would have jailed unmarried couples for having sex.
The sweeping legal changes would have delivered a considerable blow to Bali's profitable tourism industry as they would have applied to foreigners.
In an embarrassing backflip, Joko made the request on Friday afternoon amid a storm of protest over the laws from rights and civil society groups.
The Australian government had on Friday issued updated travel advice to warn Australians about the proposed legal changes, and other foreign embassies were expected to follow suit.
Joko said he had been carefully following the updates to the penal code, had heard the objections to the bill from civil society groups and "concluded that there are still materials that need further examination".
"Therefore I have instructed the Minister of Law and Human Rights as the representative of the government to convey this position to the DPR [the Parliament], that the passing of the penal code bill be postponed and the enactment will not be done by the current DPR," he said.
"I hope the DPR shares the same position so that deliberation of the bill will be carried out by the next DPR," referring to a new slate of MPs due to take their seats in October.
Under the proposed changes, sex outside marriage – including all same-sex relations – would be illegal and charges could be laid following a complaint to authorities by a spouse, child or parent.
Cohabitation outside marriage – which will also cause problems for millions of Indonesians – will also be illegal, as will indecent acts carried out in public.
Other changes 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, banning the display of contraception to a minor, curbing access to abortion and criminalising fake news, bestiality and black magic.
Melbourne University's Professor Tim Lindsey, who is the director of the Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society, said the Parliament did not have to comply with the President's request but it would face huge political pressure to do so.
Legally, it is not clear what would happen if it did ignore it.
"You have to ask why Jokowi agreed to proceed with this law, then reversed his position. Either he wasn't paying attention to the laws, or he came under huge political pressure. Maybe he is just hugely embarrassed by the international media storm," Lindsey said using the President's common name.
"Jokowi does not have a strong record of keeping an eye on complex legal matters and he has shown scant interest in human rights and civil liberties during the first term of his presidency. He's basically ignored the promises he made on rights, and this looks like another case where he wasn't paying attention and it has blown up in his face."
Lindsey said the extra marital sex provision would create "huge problems for foreigners if it's enforced, though Indonesia is awash with laws that are never enforced".
"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 shared 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, Bali, British tourist Rose Hughes said the legal changes would put her off returning to Bali. She is on holidays from Norwich with her boyfriend Jake Rodgers.
"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 surname, 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."