Indonesia’s parliament has approved a new criminal code that will make sex outside of marriage punishable by up to a year in prison.
The new criminal code will not come into effect for another three years and also includes a ban on insulting the president and expressing views that run counter to state ideology.
The code – which will apply to both Indonesians and foreigners – includes several “morality” laws and makes it illegal for unmarried couples to live together and have sex.
A person’s partner or parents can report them for the offence of having sex outside of marriage. Adultery will also be an offence for which people can be jailed.
Still, Human Rights Watch on Tuesday said the new code’s provisions were a “disaster” for human rights.
The rights group’s Asia Director Elaine Pearson told the BBC it was a “huge setback for a country that has tried to portray itself as a modern Muslim democracy.”
The group’s Jakarta-based researcher, Andreas Harsano, said there were millions of couples in Indonesia without marriage certificates “especially among Indigenous peoples or Muslims in rural areas” who had married in specific religious ceremonies.
“These people will be theoretically breaking the law as living together could be punished up to six months in prison,” he told the BBC.
He added that research from Gulf states, where there are similar laws governing sex and relationships, showed women were punished and targeted by such morality laws more than men.
Indonesia is home to several religions but the majority of its 267 million people are Muslim. Since the country’s democratic transition in 1998, it follows a creed known as Pancasila, which does not prioritise any faith but does not accept atheism. However, local law in many areas of the country is informed by religious values.
Some parts of Indonesia already have strict religion-based laws on sex and relationships.
The province of Aceh enforces strict Islamic law and has punished people for gambling, drinking alcohol and meeting members of the opposite sex.
Many Islamic civil groups in Indonesia have been pushing for more influence in shaping public policy in recent years.
Lawmakers on Tuesday praised the achievement of passing a new criminal code, one which had not been thoroughly revised since Indonesia became independent from Dutch rule.