Indonesia's Sexy Video Scandal Grows

After weeks of extraordinary public fixation, Indonesian police Tuesday arrested Nazril "Ariel" Irham on charges related to a sex video scandal involving the singer and two female celebrities, one of them his girlfriend Luna Maya, 26.

All three, including Irham, Luna and another television show host, Cut Tari, 32, were scheduled Wednesday to undergo anatomical and dental examinations to be compared with the videos, which reportedly were taken off Irham's computer hard disk by so-far unknown persons. Because he is the lead singer with a group called Peterpan, the films have inevitably been dubbed Peterporn.

The 28-year-old Irham is to be charged under Indonesia's Anti-Pornography Law, which was pushed through the legislature in 2008, mainly as a ploy to gain conservative Islamic votes in the 2009 national elections. Police were also told to charge Irham under the country's Electronic Information and Transactions Law, which governs content on the Internet. The charge carries a penalty of up to 10 years in jail and a fine of up to Rp5 billion (US$555,000). Irham's lawyer, OC Kaligis, said the singer could be detained for 20 days, extendable up to 120 days prior to a trial.

National Police spokesman Chief Cmdr Marwoto Soeto told local media that Irham was charged under Article 4 of the pornography law, which prohibits "producing, creating, reproducing, copying, distributing, broadcasting, importing, exporting, offering, trading, renting or otherwise making available pornography."

Significantly, the singer was charged with making the videos – a private act – rather than distributing them. Under the Anti-Pornography Act, no distinction is made between private and public acts. That is raising concerns that a wide range of private activity between consenting adults could be defined as pornographic if they are made public, either on purpose or inadvertently – or, for instance, if a consenting couple were to make a sex video and it were to be stolen and put onto the Internet without their consent.

The arrest, and a twitter message by Luna Maya, saying: "I love you Nazril Irham…Allah bless you" set off a public frenzy and made "Nazriel Irham" the No. 1 worldwide trending topic on Twitter by Tuesday evening.

The films have been downloaded literally by millions of people, clogging the Indonesian internet space and crashing websites where they have been posted. They are being watched by whole offices at once and by schoolchildren, whose pockets are being checked for DVDs. Nonetheless, despite the apparent relish with which a major portion of the Indonesian public is watching them and passing them on to friends, there is a growing concern that Islamic conservatives will attempt to exploit the issue to push through a wide range of social issues.

About 1,000 Islamist vigilantes led by the radical group Hizbut Tahrir rallied in central Jakarta on Tuesday, brandishing black flags and demanding that shariah law be applied across the country, including the stoning to death of adulterers. A spokesman for the group called the Internet a threat to Islamic values.

Also in recent months, a group called the Islamic Defenders Front, which has been characterized by a spate of violent attacks on night clubs, unaccompanied women and gays, has grown more active. The police by and large have either been unable or unwilling to rein them in.

Until the current controversy, prosecutors, the judiciary and the police had largely ignored the anti-pornography law, saying it was too vague to enforce in a country made up of a vast collection of ethnic groups and religious philosophies. Despite the impression that Indonesia is a conservative Islamic country, in fact even in the rural kampongs there seems little opprobrium attached to sexual activity, surveys have shown.

But lawmakers Wednesday set out to restart work on a long-stalled measure to regulate multimedia content. Kemal Azis Stamboel, chairman of the House of Representatives Commission I, which oversees defense and information, said the commission had ordered the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology resume work on the stalled draft and expected to receive updates after the month-long House recess beginning this weekend.

"We agree with the concept, however there should be a selection of what should be monitored, especially pornography, so that it will not spread as is happening today," Kemal, a Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) legislator, told reporters. "And [the ministry] should make sure that [the monitoring] does not pose threats to the freedom of press."

Previously, the government said it was committed to "totally revising" the proposed bill to monitor Internet content. The legislation's main objective is supposedly to reduce the dissemination of disturbing content on the Internet.

Media organizations, bloggers and Internet service providers say they are concerned that the measure will result in Web censorship, emphasizing controlling illegal content while ignoring ways to develop positive material.

The three explicit videos, two allegedly with Luna and one with Cut Tari, created a national sensation after they appeared on the Internet in late May. Police are trying to find out who uploaded the videos to the Internet.