By: Our Correspondent

Just days after President Joko Widodo halted highly restrictive and embarrassing regulations to curb foreign journalists in Indonesia, another puzzling rule has surfaced as some lawmakers are pushing to make the public sale of contraceptives illegal as part of a proposed revision of Indonesia’s Criminal Code.

According to the Jakarta Globe, Article 481 of the draft calls for a $700 fine on anyone promoting the sale of “devices to prevent pregnancy.” Health Ministry officials and formal family planning activities are exempt. Condoms are widely sold in the country currently.

A largely liberal and secular society, Indonesia nonetheless has powerful conservative religious figures that lobby for curbs on various perceived vices. In June, lawmakers in Bengkulu, a province on Sumatra Island, introduced legislation that called for banning condoms and blamed the spread of HIV and AIDS on freely available condoms, arguing that too many people are having too much sex outside marriage.

The idea violates virtually all medical and social research on AIDS. That such restrictions find their way into legislative proposals is perhaps testimony to the power of suspicion and religious figures able to cow lawmakers into cooperating with an increasingly conservative agenda.

No beer

Earlier this year, former Trade Minister Rahmat Goebel banned the sale of beer in all mini-markets and mom-and-pop stores nationwide. He was responding to a handful of complaints about teenagers drinking outside mini-markets in Jakarta but rather than call for the enforcement of underage drinking laws, he took a regulatory sledgehammer to the problem.

The beer ban has dried up about 60 percent of retail outlets, derailed huge brewery investments pushed by the government and driven beer sales underground in many places. He said he was enforcing morality for young people from his perch in an agency that is supposed to drive economic activity.

Goebel was replaced as trade minister in August, partly because the beer ban was a source of ridicule. Some lawmakers now want to ban all alcohol sales in the country.

More foolishness

The condom sale ban, even it is not eventually passed, is another example of a regulation that accomplishes nothing and brings more international embarrassment to the country. “This makes us all look like a bunch of religious fanatics,” bemoaned an Indonesian businessman after reading about the possible condom ban. “This hurts the economy.”

With growth slowing to below 5 percent, commodity prices down and inflation rising, the country is struggling to appear attractive to investors. Meanwhile, regulators seemingly acting with no concern for the economy have increased regulatory hurdles, tightened foreign ownership rules, restricted work permits for expatriates and taken other steps out of sync with regional economies like Vietnam and the Philippines.

President Joko, meanwhile, says the economy is open to foreign investors as he travels the world seeking customers. A condom ban is not the sort of thing that will make the country appear modern.

While there are real problems with law enforcement and the criminal code, condoms are not a burning issue. “This is overcriminalization,” Institute for Criminal Justice Reform executive director Supriyadi Widodo Eddyono said of the proposed revision.

The proposed new penal code also attempts to criminalize adultery and cohabitation, which may be frowned upon by some but are not illegal in most parts of the country.

The condom provision has the apparent support of the National Family Planning Coordinating Board (BKKBN), a government institution. 

“[Condoms] are sold freely in supermarkets, out in the open,” BKKBN deputy chief Julianto Witjaksono told radio station KBR radio last week. “People can just buy them. What if they are bought by teenagers?”

Research Miko Ginting from the Legal and Policy Study Center (PSHK), was quoted by the Jakarta Globe saying the revision of the Criminal Code should focus on general crimes like murder and theft.

“Special crimes like human rights abuses and corruption have their own laws,” Miko said. “Don’t let this revision override these special laws.”