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Indonesia Pornography Bill Targets Public Life

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Indonesia's parliament is considering a new anti-pornography bill. A bill that would, in its current form, clamp down not just on pornography, but on social behavior in the world's most populous Muslim nation.

NPR's Michael Sullivan reports from Jakarta.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN reporting:

It's not too hard to figure out why some people here feel the need to clamp down on pornography. In central Jakarta's (unintelligible) neighborhood, hardcore porn is cheap and plentiful and the vendors highly motivated.

Unidentified Vendor: (Foreign language spoken)

SULLIVAN: The curbside stalls are packed with titles like Hardwood, Initiation of Joy, and Barely Legal. But, in fact, very little of what is being offered here is legal, not that it matters much to those pushing the porn on passersby.

Unidentified Vendor: (Foreign language spoken)

SULLIVAN: The vendors says most of their customers are locals and it's clear they'll sell to anyone. And that, says one of the bill's supporters, is part of the problem. H. Shafiancha(ph) with the conservative United Development Party and the deputy chairman of the Parliamentary committee drafting the bill.

Mr. H. SHAFIANCHA (United Development Party, Indonesia): (Through Translator) Pornography is one thing that needs to be strictly regretted, because it is against our ethics and against our culture. That's why we need this law to help guide society, and to make sure our children are not exposed to or influenced by pornographic material.

SULLIVAN: But it's not quite that simple, because the bill also clamps down on what Indonesians call porno-oxy(ph), roughly translated as pornographic action. If the bill passes in its current form, this mean that women wearing clothing deemed too revealing could face a fine or jail term, or both. Couples caught kissing in public could face the same fate.

Ms. SYDNEY JONES (South East Asia Project Director, International Crisis Group): It's a morality bill. It's basically testing the capacity and political will of the state to define what can and cannot be done, in terms of materials to read, ways to dress, appropriate behavior and so on.

SULLIVAN: Sydney Jones is South East Asia Project Director for the International Crisis Group.

Ms. JONES: I don't think most people would have a problem if it was just a question of trying to define obscenity and trying to ensure that certain kinds of materials weren't circulated. But in this bill, it's the broad way in which erotic behavior and appearance is defined that would make just showing bare arms or showing any part of the body that could arouse anybody as illegal.

SULLIVAN: Dancers, writers, actors and many civil society groups have rallied to express their displeasure with the bill. Many see it as the thin end of the wedge, an attempt by Islamist hardliners to impose their will and customs on the moderate majority in this predominantly Muslim nation. Political analysts, Salim Saeed(ph), like many Indonesians, is all for clamping down on pornography, but he says there is an easier and more elegant solution, one that doesn't entail legislating morality.

Mr. SALIM SAEED (Political Analyst): The draft regulation is too much. We have to inform existing law, improve the existing law rather than making new law. Our problem is the police should take care of this by using existing law, which is already there.

SULLIVAN: But that isn't happening, and in the meantime some local governments are implementing their own versions of the anti-pornography bill. In one recent case, a women waiting for a bus late at night was picked up by police who accused her of being a prostitute since she was out so late. Another woman was detained after lipstick was found in her handbag. These are extreme cases. But the International Crisis Group's Sydney Jones says that religious conservatives, though small in number, could still push the anti-pornography bill through at the national level.

Ms. JONES: They're tapping into a broader mass of people, including some conservative politicians, who believe that if they don't support this law they'll be accused by other members of their parties or some of their constituents of being bad Muslims. And it's that group that are going to be the turning point, in terms of whether this law gets passed or not.

SULLIVAN: The bill is tentatively scheduled to considered by the full Parliament sometime next month. Opponents are hoping the final version won't be as nearly as strict as the draft.

Michael Sullivan NPR News, Jakarta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.