INDONESIA: Women outraged by Jakarta's anti-porn bill

To celebrate International Women's Day, women in Jakarta march to protest anti-pornography bill

Straits Times
Thursday, March 9, 2006

By Devi Asmarani

Jakarta --- Women here marked International Women's Day yesterday with a march to pressure Parliament to drop an anti-pornography Bill.

It seems an unlikely protest for a day focused on women's rights. But the demonstrators fear the Bill could lead to penalties of up to 12 years in prison and fines of up to 2 billion rupiah (S$350,500) for such simple acts as kissing in public and baring of legs or shoulders.

"The anti-pornography Bill does not respect a woman's right to her own sexuality," said Ms Vivi Widyawati of the Mahardhika Women's Working Group as the crowd of 150 rallied at the heart of Jakarta.

Their protest followed days of mounting opposition to the Bill -- which also seeks to ban "erotic artwork" and has strong support among lawmakers -- from intellectuals, artists and some ethnic groups.

But a special parliamentary team says it will press ahead and finalise the draft this week, and submit it for approval in June.

Mr Balkan Kaplale, who heads the team, told The Straits Times recently: "This Bill is crucial to prevent further moral degradation.

"But I agree that parts of it have to be revised -- as it is, only angels can abide by the law."

Some contentious clauses, such as the public kissing ban, may be toned down. But even a softer Bill will not be acceptable to its critics, who say it is too wide-ranging and ill-defined, that the penalties are too harsh, and that existing laws against pornography are sufficient.

There is no clear definition of the "sensual body parts" which must not be exposed in public, or what an erotic artwork is. And women's rights advocates say that instead of protecting them, it demonises them and gives the state a blank cheque to regulate people's behaviour.

Regional opposition to the Bill has come from Bali, Batam and Papua. Both Bali and Batam are worried that the Bill would hurt tourism.

In Bali, where about 1,000 people rallied against the Bill last week, residents have warned that the resort island would secede from Indonesia if the Bill is passed.

"Balinese arts and religious beliefs have never considered sensuality and sexuality as impure," rally organiser Cok Sawitri said.

And in Papua, where many men wear only penis sheaths and women are bare-breasted, there are fears about the Bill's impact on the traditional way of life. But Mr Balkan said these provinces need not worry as their respective local administrations would be exempted.