Indonesian Sex Videos May Trigger Internet Crackdown

With millions of Indonesian absolutely transfixed for almost a month over the widespread distribution of homemade videotapes involving three popular local celebrities involved in hardcore sex, the matter has started to take on more ominous overtones. Friday President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he would lend his support for a filter to block pornography on the Internet.

Given Indonesia's uncertain flirtation with a more conservative Islamic society, the videotapes are raising concerns among liberals that the pace will pick up. An Anti-Pornography Act was pushed through in 2008 more because Yudhoyono and his nominal allies believed they needed the conservative Islamic vote in 2009 elections than because of any public outrage.

Prosecutors, the judiciary and the police largely ignored the law, saying it was too vague to enforce in a variegated country made up of a vast collection of ethnic groups and religious groupings ranging from largely Hindu Bali, where village traditions remain strong, to Papua, where penis gourds are still common in the hinterlands; to Jakarta, with its nightclubs, malls and glitz; and to liberal, largely Christian north Sulawesi.

Today, however, in the House of Representatives lawmakers now are lining up behind plans by Information Technology Minister Tifatul Sembiring of the conservative Islamist Prosperous Justice Party to use the scandal to revive a move to filter the Web for content deemed "negative" and immoral. Sembirang said he would promulgate a decree by the end of the year to "save the young" from Internet porn. Religious leaders, parents and others have been lining up to support controlling the Web as well. On Sunday, Megawati Sukarnoputri, the leader of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, added her voice, saying the law should be enforced in the video case.

"This case has caused many women concern, including me. Why do the public and the younger generations consume this kind of thing?" Megawati told reporters.

Even China has backed away from an Internet filter. But Indonesia, 86 percent of whose 243 million residents are Muslim, has been alternatively scandalized and titillated by the online release of the films, which allegedly featured Nazril Ilham, 28, an Indonesian rock star known as Ariel, and television personalities Luna Maya, 26, and Cut Tari, 32. All have denied being in the films, saying those filmed were someone else. Because Ariel sings with a group called Peterpan, the films have inevitably been dubbed Peterporn.

The ubiquity of the films, in three episodes, is astonishing. They have seemingly been watched by half the country, with whole offices in Jakarta watching them together in the days since they apparently were uploaded for the first time on May 22. Some 40 million Indonesians have access to the Internet. Schools have been searching students' pockets to confiscate DVDs. They have appeared not only on the Web but on cellphones and emails, spreading to social networking sites and local Internet forums, where links to downloads of the video were widely shared. The videos began appearing on BlackBerries, Twitter and Facebook.

The three celebrities have been hauled in for questioning, the latest last Friday, to emerge again before the television cameras, looking alternatively remorseful and intimidated. Police had said they planned to physically examine Ariel and Luna, presumably to try to match distinguishing body features with those seen in the clips.

None of the three have confessed to being in the films and police have declined to say who the actors in the videos are. "Ariel and Luna still have not admitted that the videos are theirs," said Brig. Gen. Saud Usman Nasution, the director of transnational crime, adding that the police will not push them to confess. They could face up to 12 years in jail.

Six other individuals, however, have been hauled in for questioning. "The six have not been arrested," Saud said. "They are being questioned until we find out who was the first person to upload the videos. We are assisted by six experts and we are applying scientific methods."

Yudhoyono had so far been careful to steer away from the scandal. But on Friday, cornered by reporters, he said he supports the steps taken by the police.

"They have investigated who duplicated the videos and distributed them," Yudhoyono said. "Whoever did it, the law must be upheld. I will keep supporting it." Then he went on to say that "In relation to an open society, an information society, we have increasingly realized that the country should not stay naked and be steamrolled by an information technology frenzy, as the stakes are huge. Other countries have already have regulations on this ... The incident has made us think about the best thing that should be done. Negative impacts on our society should be avoided."

The fact is that in Indonesia, supposedly a conservative Islamic country, amazing numbers of teenagers not only regularly watch pornography but engage in sex regularly. Indonesian Child Protection Commission vice chairwoman Masnah Sari reported in May that a survey of 4,500 teenagers aged between 14 and 18 in Jakarta, Bandung and Surabaya, found that 93 percent had engaged in oral sex and 21.2 percent of the girls had had an abortion.

The survey was almost immediately disowned by Hadi Supeno, the head of the child protection commission, who said no such survey had been conducted. Nonetheless, Supeno told reporters, a much smaller survey found that 32 percent of teenagers in several cities claimed to have had sexual intercourse and that they had easy access to pornography through either the Internet or DVD sellers. Teenagers from upper middle class families told the survey they had learned about sex from their nightlife, going to night clubs. Certainly anecdotal evidence indicates that pornography is available right down to the lowest village level and is watched by everybody – boys and girls as well.