INDONESIA: NGOs sue House over porn bill, calling it threat to pluralism

Alliance of NGOs files lawsuit against House over bill they say allows state to force citizens to enforce Islamic values

The Jakarta Post
Thursday, December 7, 2006

By Ridwan Max Sijabat

Jakarta --- An alliance of NGOs filed a lawsuit Wednesday with the Central Jakarta District Court against the House of Representatives over a bill they say endangers the multireligious and multicultural character of Indonesia.

The Alliance of Unity in Diversity Advocates demanded the House drop the highly controversial pornography bill, which they say is based on Islamic values and threatens pluralism in the country.

Lawyers for the alliance said court officials promised to process the lawsuit within three weeks at the latest.

"It's a big deal because it's the first time that a civil group has filed a lawsuit against a state institution. We hope to teach the House a lesson from this case," lawyer Daniel Panjaitan said.

Daniel said the House had broken its internal rules in drafting the bill, which has met with strong opposition from some groups.

"The bill should have dealt with the distribution of pornographic materials, not prescribe how citizens must behave according to the moral standards of a particular religion," he said.

The bill has received strong backing from some Muslim groups, notably hard-line groups that openly seek the adoption of sharia-based laws. But it has been opposed by pro-democracy, women's and human rights groups. The controversy moved lawmakers to delay discussion of the bill.

Daniel said lawmakers, in drafting the bill, failed to accommodate input from civil society.

The NGOs also said the committee deliberating the pornography bill issued two versions of the draft, one having 93 chapters and the other 36 chapters. They say no reason has ever been offered for the different versions.

"This has only worsened the controversy," Daniel said.

Alliance coordinator Ratna Sarumpaet said people were tired of the "political games" being played by groups in the House eager to see the bill endorsed.

"We see a grand scenario behind the bill. It's an attempt to make Indonesia an Islamic state. It has to do with the issuance of sharia bylaws in certain regions. We raised this issue with the (Islamic-based) Prosperous Justice Party faction (in the House) but they were tight-lipped. For us their silence means 'yes,'" she said.

Ratna, also director of the Jakarta Institute of the Arts, reiterated that the alliance was against pornography, but opposed a bill that would allow the state to force citizens to behave according to the norms of a certain religion.

"It is no longer necessary for the House to pass a pornography law because it is already covered in the Criminal Code and existing laws such as the broadcasting and press laws. Pluralism is the nation's main characteristic and we have to accept local cultures and traditional customs," she said.

She claimed Bali, Papua, North Sulawesi and East Nusa Tenggara, where Muslims are the minority, had threatened to break away from Indonesia if the House pushed through the bill.