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Indonesia's parliament has approved a legislation that criminalizes extramarital sex for citizens and visiting foreigners, a move critics deemed as a setback to the country's freedoms. 

After the new criminal code was endorsed by all nine parties in a sweeping overhaul of the legal code, deputy house speaker Sufmi Dasco Ahmad banged the gavel to signal the text was approved and shouted "legal".

A revision of Indonesia's criminal code, which stretches back to the Dutch colonial era, has been debated for decades.

"We have tried our best to accommodate the important issues and different opinions which were debated," Yasonna Laoly, Minister of Law and Human Rights, told parliament.

"However, it is time for us to make a historical decision on the penal code amendment and to leave the colonial criminal code we inherited behind."

The new criminal code must be signed by the president, according to Deputy Minister of Law and Human Rights Edward Hiariej. The criminal code will not apply immediately. He said the new law “has a lot of implementing regulations that must be worked out, so it’s impossible in one year," but takes a maximum of three years to transition from the old code to the new one.

Some of the most controversial articles in the newly passed code criminalise extra-marital sex, as well as the cohabitation of unmarried couples. According to the text seen by AFP, illegal cohabitation will have a maximum sentence of six months imprisonment, and sex outside of marriage will be punished with one year in prison. But the adultery charges must be based on police reports lodged by their spouse, parents or children.

There are also fears these rules could have a major impact on the LGBTQ community in Indonesia, where same-sex marriage is illegal.

The spokesperson of the Law and Human Rights Ministry's criminal code bill dissemination team, Albert Aries, defended the amendments before the vote and said the law would protect marriage institutions.

The article on extra-marital sex has been criticised by Indonesian business organisations as detrimental to tourism, though authorities insisted foreigners travelling to Bali would not be affected.

As reported by Associated Press, the new code also says the promotion of contraception and religious blasphemy are illegal, and it restores a ban on insulting a sitting president and vice president, state institutions and national ideology. Insults to a sitting president must be reported by the president and can lead to up to three years in jail. Edward Hiariej said the government provided “the strictest possible explanation that distinguishes between insults and criticism."

The code maintains that abortion is a crime, but it adds exceptions for women with life-threatening medical conditions and for rape, provided that the fetus is less than 12 weeks old, in line with what is already regulated in the 2004 Medical Practice Law.

As per Associated Press, a previous bill was poised for passage in 2019, but President Joko Widodo urged lawmakers to delay a vote on the bill amid mounting public criticism that led to a nationwide protests when tens of thousands of people took to the streets. Opponents had said it lacked transparency in the law-making process and contained articles that discriminate against minorities. Widodo had instructed Law and Human Rights Minister Yasonna Laoly to get input from various communities while lawmakers discussed the articles.

A parliamentary taskforce finalized the bill in November and lawmakers unanimously approved it Tuesday.

At a business conference before the vote on Tuesday, US ambassador to Indonesia Sung Yong Kim said he was concerned about "morality clauses" in the criminal code that can have "negative" impact on businesses.

Before the vote, a shouting match erupted between a lawmaker from the Prosperous Justice Party or PKS and the deputy house speaker. "Don't be a dictator", shouted Iskan Qolba Lubis, the lawmaker from the Islamist party, after he was prevented from speaking.

Bambang Wuryanto, head of the commission that oversaw deliberations on the text, acknowledged "this is a product by humans and hence it will never be perfect". But he invited critics to "file a judicial review to the constitutional court" instead of demonstrating.

Rights groups slammed the legislation as morality policing. "We are going backward... repressive laws should have been abolished but the bill shows that the arguments of scholars abroad are true, that our democracy is indisputably in decline," Amnesty International Indonesia director Usman Hamid told AFP.

About a hundred people protested against the bill Monday and unfurled a yellow banner that read "reject the passing of the criminal code revision", with some dropping flower petals on the banner as is done for a funeral. Another protest to reject the new law was scheduled to be held on Tuesday in front of the parliament building.

(With inputs from agencies)

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