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Bali sex ban: Indonesian tourism operators urge calm over new laws

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Bali locals and businesses have sought to reassure panicked travellers not to worry about the country’s controversial sex ban.

Indonesia’s parliament officially passed long-awaited amendments to the criminal code on Tuesday, including a ban on extramarital sex and the cohabitation of unmarried couples — with punishment of up to a year in prison.

The news sparked a raft of warnings for foreign tourists and the LGBT community, and even threats of ditching holiday plans.

In 2019, when the rules were first proposed, local operators also reported a wave of cancellations.

But with the new code not coming into effect for another three years — and assurances from Indonesian officials that foreigners won’t be affected — the tourism industry is urging calm.

“You’ve probably seen the headlines already, ‘Bali bans cohabiting of unmarried couples,’” local travel website Honeycombers Bali wrote on Instagram.

“Well, before you cancel your trip (or put a last-minute ring on it) here are three key points that the headlines aren’t telling you.

“1. This law does not come into effect for another three years. A lot can change before then!

“2. Only direct family (parents, brothers, sisters etc.) can report their own family members to the authorities — there won’t be ‘raids’ on villas or hotels etc.

“3. You do not need a marriage certificate to check into your hotel and you do not need to book a separate room to your partner!

“This law doesn’t particularly affect tourists, but we do hope certain changes are made if it comes into effect in 2025, to protect certain freedoms of the local community.”

One commenter warned, “But for the tourist males who sleep with the Indonesian females — the law still applies. So make sure her brother is happy with you sleeping with his sister.”

Another replied, “Whoever comes to your house should respect your rules and likewise in Indonesia, it’s a free country with a legislative and democratic system that everyone including us should simply respect.”

Morgana Reid, owner of Bali-themed lifestyle range Sukha Living, also urged people to “relax”, saying the law would have “zero impact” on Bali.

“OK kids. For all those concerned they will be arrested if they get laid on their next Bali holiday, relax,” she wrote on Facebook.

“The new law is just another ridiculous religious based law coming in three years time that will have zero impact on Bali.

“Adultery is illegal in Indonesia and I am yet to meet anyone who has been arrested for having a sneaky affair.

“Don’t cancel your flight for fear of having to keep your knickers on for the entirety of your next holiday.

“For God sake let Bali get back on its feet after Covid and years of locals hardly able to feed their families.”

One person replied, “Thank God you clarified … I nearly cancelled my holiday concerned they were gonna be sexless.”

Another added, “Thank you. We are only 30 per cent occupied and prices still lower than before Covid — we need a break.”

Australians also took to Bali travel pages to play down the fears.

“They have been talking about doing this for years but it never happens … it will probably all be forgotten in a couple of weeks,” one woman wrote.

Another man added, “It will never happen in Bali. Indonesian government spoke about it years ago from a Muslim prospective, however Bali is Hindu and a huge cash cow for the government. Tourist dollars are too important.”

A third woman agreed, “A few years ago they talked about banning alcohol in Bali, that never happened either — they’d lose too many tourist dollars.”

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said on Wednesday it was “seeking further clarity” on the changes.

“We understand these revisions will not come into force for three years, and we await further information on how the revisions will be interpreted as implementing regulations are drafted and finalised,” a spokeswoman said.

“DFAT continues to keep all our travel advisories under close review, including to regularly and carefully reassess the risks to Australians overseas and to provide the latest information. DFAT will continue to monitor the situation closely.”

Albert Aries from Indonesia’s Law and Human Rights Ministry defended the amendments before the vote and said the law would protect marriage institutions.

“In the old draft, a village chief could lodge a complaint but even in the 2019 draft, that part was already taken out,” he told The Sydney Morning Herald this week.

“Private space cannot be interfered with by a third party that does not have any relation whatsoever. That means Australian [tourists] shouldn’t be worried.”

It comes after Indonesian makeup artist Francesca Tanmizi took to social media to slam people for only focusing on the impact on foreigners.

“FU for not caring about human rights unless it affects yours,” she said in a viral TikTok video.

But Tanmizi stressed the laws were open for “abuse” and tourists could still find themselves on the wrong side of the law.

“Sexual assault happens,” she said.

“What if you’re sexually assaulted … do you dare report it to the police knowing you could be ‘self-reporting’ a crime? Victims of sexual assault always have problems proving that it’s non-consensual.”

Jenny Hewett, a travel journalist who has lived on-and-off in Bali since 2016, said earlier this week the news would be a “massive setback to tourism”.

Around 16 million tourists visited Indonesia in 2019, and the country’s tourism sector, which was wiped out during Covid, has begun to rebound this year with Aussies leading the charge.

“Bali is Hindu majority, they’ve always been relatively autonomous but that doesn’t make them above the law,” she said.

Hewett said that while the chance of foreigners getting “caught up in the new laws are quite slim, it can happen”.

“One thing I’ve seen is foreigners and tourists getting on the wrong side of the law,” she said.

She suggested tourists might end up being investigated for premarital sex after coming to the attention of police for something unrelated.

“It’s just another thing you have to worry about,” she said.

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