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Bali governor insists sex ban no risk to tourists

12.12.22 23:00
Bali’s governor has insisted visitors should not worry about a controversial ban on sex outside of marriage, dismissing concerns Indonesia’s revised criminal code will throttle the recovery of the resort island’s lucrative tourism industry.

Bali Governor Wayan Koster said in a statement on Sunday that people can only be prosecuted for sex outside of marriage following a complaint by a parent, spouse or child, a provision added to a stricter draft of the legislation to ensure “everyone’s privacy and comfortableness”.

Wayan said foreign tourists and residents “would not need to worry” about the revised laws and authorities would not check the marital status of people checking in at tourist accommodations.

The governor also criticised what he said were “hoax” reports of travellers cancelling flights and hotel bookings and cautioned against “misleading statements that would stir up the situation”, saying that data from travel agents and airlines indicates that the number of visitors is set to increase next year.

The governor’s remarks come as Bali, a predominately Hindu island in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, seeks to attract back tourists after the COVID-19 pandemic caused arrivals to plunge from 6.3 million in 2019 to just dozens in 2021.

Tourism groups, including the Association of The Indonesian Tours and Travel Agencies and the Indonesian Hotel & Restaurant Association, have expressed concerns about the law, while Australia, the biggest source of foreign tourists, has said it is “seeking further clarity” about how its citizens could be affected.

Gary Bowerman, director of Kuala Lumpur-based travel and tourism research firm Check-in Asia, said despite authorities’ assurances, tourism is heavily dependent on perceptions.

“That’s why destinations spend millions of dollars on campaigns to promote their attractiveness and uniqueness to visitors. The new criminal code could instil a negative perception, not only for fear of personal safety but also for travellers concerned about the rights of local people,” Bowerman told Al Jazeera.

“The important thing to remember is that tourists have choices. If they feel that the new criminal code provides reasons not to visit Indonesia, they can book to go elsewhere. This is not a luxury shared by local people affected by the new criminal code.”

The sex ban follows a sweeping overhaul of Indonesia’s criminal code approved last week by its parliament.
Officials have hailed the passage of the code, which had stalled for decades, as a step to bring the country’s colonial-era laws “in line with Indonesian values”.

The United Nations, human rights groups and press freedom advocates have criticised the code, arguing it violates basic human rights and will disproportionately harm women, religious minorities and LGBTQ people.

In addition to outlawing sex outside of marriage, the code also bans apostasy and makes it a crime to insult the president, state institutions, the national flag and the state philosophy of Pancasila, Al Jazeera reports.

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