Indonesian police fire tear gas at sex law protesters

(CNA) – Police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters outside Indonesia’s parliament Tuesday (Sep 24), TV reports showed, as thousands demonstrated nationwide over plans to outlaw pre-marital sex, and weaken the anti-corruption agency.

Masses of protesters wiped their faces and scattered in all directions as chaos erupted in the centre of the sprawling capital Jakarta.

The police action came as flag and placard waving demonstrators gathered in Jakarta and other cities, including cultural capital Yogyakarta and Makassar on Sulawesi island, for a second day in a row.

On Tuesday, lawmakers debated a wide-ranging legal overhaul that would criminalise pre-marital sex, restrict sales of contraceptives, make it illegal to “insult” the president and toughen the Muslim majority country’s blasphemy laws.

A vote on the Bill was original scheduled for Tuesday. But President Joko Widodo on Friday called for a delay in passing the proposed changes after a public backlash.

The mooted changes could affect millions of Indonesians, including gay and heterosexual couples who might face jail for having sex outside wedlock, or having an affair.

Widodo’s call for a delay came as the Australian embassy in Jakarta issued a fresh travel advisory, warning that the legislation could put unmarried foreign tourists in the crosshairs.

Students, often wearing colourful jackets from their alma maters, gathered in cities across the country.

One banner held by a woman in a photo posted on social media read: “My crotch does not belong to the government.”

Thousands gathered in the front and back entrances to Jakarta’s parliament building, demanding to meet with parliament speaker Bambang Soesatyo.

Soesatyo held a news conference inside the building urging calm, but refused to answer questions from reporters about whether the vote will be delayed until new parliament takes office, repeating the vote could happen in the current term.

Police then fired water cannons and tear gas in an attempt to clear the crowd.

On the main street through Jakarta, hundreds of others were marching down towards parliament after protesting in front of the presidential palace, blocking traffic.

“We’re going to parliament to oppose the new law for the anti-corruption agency that are not pro-people but are pro-corruptors,” Fuad Wahyudin, 21-year-old student from an Islamic university in West Java, told Reuters.

“The criminal code is the same, it doesn’t side with the people.”

Though the president had ordered a delay in the criminal code, Wahyudin said he wants to make sure parliament does not pass the Bill into law until they change it to reflect demand from protesters.

Widodo this week stood firm on plans to pass a separate Bill that critics fear would dilute the investigative power of graft-riddled Indonesia’s corruption fighting agency – known as the KPK – including its ability to wire-tap suspects.

Updating Indonesia’s criminal code, which dates back to the Dutch colonial era, has been debated for decades and appeared set to pass in 2018 before it fizzled.

A renewed push this year, backed by conservative Islamic groups, was met with a tidal wave of criticism over what many saw as a draconian law that invaded the bedrooms of a nation with some 260 million people – the fourth most populous on Earth.

An online petition calling for the Bill to be scrapped garnered half a million signatures while hundreds of thousands took to social media to vent their frustration.