Belarus introduces prison sentences for taking part in protests

(Reuters) – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Tuesday signed into law prison sentences for people taking part in protests or insulting state officials, part of an unprecedented crackdown by the veteran leader since a disputed election last year.

In a series of amendments to the criminal code, Lukashenko also for the first time introduced a four-year prison sentence for people found guilty of spreading false information that discredits the state.

The Russian-backed president also introduced tougher penalties for resisting the police and using protest symbols.

Under the new law, anyone who has been detained at least twice for taking part in a protest, or insulted a government official, faces up to three years in prison, whereas previously they were subjected to detentions or fines.

“This naturally worsens the situation in the field of civil and political rights,” said Valentin Stefanovich of the Viasna-96 human rights group. “These laws are in fact no longer against protests, but against any dissent.”

In power since 1994, Lukashenko launched a violent crackdown against mass protests after winning an election in August that his opponents say was blatantly rigged.

Lukashenko did not comment on the new measures, which parliament had first adopted last month, but in March he had warned of a tougher response to opposition.

“We need to be prepared for manifestations of destructive activity: from calls for illegal strikes to the manipulation of people’s minds through Internet technologies. For each such step we must have adequate response tools in our arsenal.”

Lukashenko has previously signed amendments on laws governing the media, allowing the government to close down media outlets without needing a court order as before.

The European Union is preparing new sanctions on Minsk following the May 23 arrest of dissident Belarusian blogger Roman Protasevich after the forced grounding of a Ryanair plane while on a flight from Greece to Lithuania.

A joint delegation from the European Union, the United States, United Kingdom, Switzerland and Japan met Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei in Minsk on Tuesday.

In a statement, the delegation urged Belarus to stop its “inhumane treatment of peaceful protesters and political prisoners”.

(Editing by Matthias Williams and Mark Heinrich)

Thousands rally against Indonesian bill to ban extra-marital sex

By Stanley Widianto and Agustinus Beo Da Costa

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Thousands of students protested at rallies across Indonesia on Monday against a new criminal code that would outlaw sex outside marriage and gay sex, as lawmakers met the president to discuss how to proceed with a bill that has divided Indonesians.

President Joko Widodo on Friday ordered a delay in a planned vote on the controversial bill – originally slated for Tuesday – and said 14 articles needed further review before it was deliberated by a new parliament, whose term begins next month.

Students rallied on Monday in the capital Jakarta – where some climbed the gates of the parliament to hang banners – and cities including Yogyakarta, in central Java, and Makassar, on Sulawesi island, to oppose the bill.

Meanwhile, lawmakers whose term will end this month met in the presidential palace for talks with the president.

“The bill was delayed so that we could get input, better substance that is in accordance to what the people want,” Widodo told reporters after the meeting, adding the code could be included in the next term of parliament.

Mulfachri Harahap, an MP, said he still hoped a new version could be put to the vote before the end of the month, adding: “Even though there are articles considered problematic, they are not many and they’re debatable.”Critics say the bill violates free speech and discriminates against religious minorities, women and LGBT people. But Islamic groups, including Indonesia’s biggest Muslim group, Nahdlatul Ulama, say the changes reflect “the character and the personality of the Indonesian people and the nation”.

The revisions to the country’s criminal code, which has not been updated since its inception during the Dutch colonial-era, also include penalties for insulting the president’s dignity, a four-year jail term for abortions in the absence of a medical emergency or rape, and a prison term for black magic.

The planned revisions had spurred Australia to update its travel advice, warning citizens of risks they could face from extra-marital or gay sex should the law be passed.

Bali, a Hindu enclave in mostly Muslim Indonesia and the country’s most important tourism destination, is especially popular with visitors from Australia, where one newspaper greeted the news on Friday with the headline: “Bali Sex Ban.”

“I think it’s crazy, because there’s a lot of couples coming to Bali on, like, a romantic holiday, and they are not married, they might be just a boyfriend or girlfriend,” said Sienna Scott, an Australian holidaying on the island.

Local officials said they hoped there might be changes to the bill before it becomes law. “If possible, articles which are sensitive to our lives in Bali can be reviewed or eliminated,” Bali deputy governor, Tjokorda Oka Artha Ardana Sukawati, said.

In Jakarta, students protested in front of parliament against the criminal code and also changes to the anti-graft laws that opponents fear will harm the fight against corruption.

“Because reform has been corrupted, we want the country to go back to the reform mandate,” said Manik Marganamahendra, 22, a student at the University of Indonesia.

(Additional reporting by Sultan Anshori in Bali; Editing by Ed Davies and Alex Richardson)

Millions may risk jail as Indonesia to outlaw sex outside marriage

By Tom Allard and Agustinus Bea Da Costa

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia is poised to pass a new penal code that criminalizes consensual sex outside marriage and introduces stiff penalties for insulting the president’s dignity – a move rights groups criticized as an intrusive assault on basic freedoms.

Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim majority country and has substantial Christian, Hindu and Buddhist minorities, but has seen a recent trend towards deeper religious piety and conservative Islamic activism.

The new criminal code is due to be adopted in the next week after parliament and the government agreed a final draft on Wednesday, four parliamentarians told Reuters.

Lawmakers told Reuters that the new penal code, which would replace a Dutch colonial-era set of laws, was a long-overdue expression of Indonesian independence and religiosity.

“The state must protect citizens from behavior that is contrary to the supreme precepts of God,” said Nasir Djamil, a politician from the Prosperous Justice Party. He said leaders of all religions had been consulted on the changes given that Indonesia’s founding ideology was based on belief in God.

Under the proposed laws, unmarried couples who “live together as a husband and wife” could be jailed for six months or face a maximum fine of 10 million rupiah ($710), which is three months’ salary for many Indonesians.

A prosecution can proceed if a village chief, who heads the lowest tier of government, files a complaint with police, and parents or children of the accused do not object. Parents, children and spouses can also lodge a complaint.

The inclusion of the new power for village chiefs was warranted because “the victim of adultery is also society”, another lawmaker, Teuku Taufiqulhadi, said.


The Institute for Criminal Justice Reform, an NGO, said millions of Indonesians could be ensnared by the new laws. It noted a study indicating that 40 percent of Indonesian adolescents engaged in pre-marital sexual activity.

“Across the board, this is a ratcheting up of conservatism. It’s extremely regressive,” said Tim Lindsey, director of the University of Melbourne’s Centre for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society.

A maximum one-year prison term also can be applied to a person who has sex with someone who is not their spouse and a close family member lodges a complaint. The law also impacts homosexuals as gay marriage is not recognized in Indonesia.

The code also establishes prison terms for those found to commit “obscene acts”, defined as violating norms of decency and politeness through “lust or sexuality”, whether by heterosexuals or gay people.

The new laws will also apply to foreigners. However, asked whether tourists in Indonesia could face jail for extramarital sex, Taufiqulhadi said: “No problem, as long as people don’t know.”

There would also be a maximum four-year prison term for women who have an abortion, applicable if there was no medical emergency or rape involved. The code further introduces fines for some people who promote contraception, and a six-month prison term for unauthorized discussion of “tools of abortion”.

In addition, local authorities would get greater freedom to introduce punishments for breaches of customary laws not covered in the penal code. There are more than 400 local regulations that activists say impinge civil rights, such as the mandatory wearing of a hijab, an Islamic headscarf for women.

Meanwhile, parliament has reintroduced the offense of “attacking the honor or dignity” of Indonesia’s president and vice president. A similar law was struck down by the Constitutional Court in 2006, and the new version is likely to be challenged by rights activists as well.

Insulting the government and state institutions also carries a prison term.

(Additional reporting by Jessica Damiana; Editing by Mark Heinrich)