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    Southeast Asia
     Mar 29, 2008
SEX IN DEPTH
Indecent exposure in Indonesia
By William Sparrow

BANGKOK - Indonesia, with an estimated population of over 230 million, is the world's largest Muslim nation. As such, a morality debate has intensified in recent years regarding access to sexually explicit material, specifically as the Internet becomes widely available. Perceptions of so-called Western indulgence and moral decay have alarmed many Indonesians.

In the introduction to Jakarta Post journalist Maggie Tiojakin's article "Sexual Evolution" it was written, "The end of the repressive New Order regime along with greater accessibility to information in the cyber-age has opened the floodgates of sexual experimentation in the past decade. While not everybody is doing


 

it, at least they are talking about it."

Recently, Indonesian media have also reported a number of scandals involving the Internet distribution of pornographic photos of local celebrities, including a Parliament member and ordinary citizens caught in the act on camera.

The Indonesian government has been quick to act, and this week announced a plan to outlaw Internet pornography. Jakarta's campaign is the latest of many developing nations which have sought to curb the allegedly damaging effects of "adult" pictures, videos and chatrooms.

On March 25, the Indonesian government passed a law banning the accessing and production of "immoral content" on the Internet. The law, which will come into effect on March 29, is one of the strictest in the world regarding adult content: a person found guilty faces six years in prison and a fine of 1 billion rupiah (US$110,000).

In rapid response, a group of hackers took over an Indonesian government website for several hours to protest against the new ban, the Information Ministry said on Friday. According to an Agence France Presse (AFP) report, "The protesters posted a message Thursday on the Ministry of Information website challenging it to 'prove that the law was not drafted to cover the government's stupidity'.

"The message seemed to be directed at the law that was just passed by Parliament," ministry official Ferdinandus Setu told AFP, adding the site was taken down for a period but is now back to normal.

Interestingly, the law - ostensibly aimed at protecting the moral virtue of the young generation - coincides with another government plan to extend free Internet to all high schools in Indonesia. According to the plan's proponents, the move will bring the country's total number of Internet users to over 40 million. There are additional plans to extend the free Internet to even younger students.

Information Minister Muhammad Nuh said the decision to censor porn sites was deliberately taken in conjunction with the launch of the high school Internet access campaign. According to Nuh, an estimated 1 million locally produced pornographic sites, as well as and all foreign sites that stipulate a minimum age of 18 to enter, would be blocked from March 29. He added that "common sense will determine what is allowed and what isn't. We have to protect the nation, particularly the young generation."

Industry specific "blocking" software will be made available from the Information Ministry for download, officials said. For now the software will operate from the user's computer, but there are plans to explore blocking it at the Internet Service Provider (ISP) level. David Burke, executive vice president of Telkom, the largest state telecommunications company, said blocking access to specific sites for Indonesian broadband users and those accessing the Internet through the country's two main gateways should not be difficult, but noted that there would be gaps.

"... Many Internet cafes obtain their bandwidth from satellites, which is much harder to control," said Burke. "So it's a huge job and there will always be cracks. It will depend on how much the government really wants to monitor and police this."

Blocking "immoral content" can be difficult. Australia for example, released similar software last year for parents and schools to use voluntarily. The project to create the software cost the government 84 million Australian dollars(US$77 million), but within an hour of being released had been hacked with a work-around by an Australian teenager.

In Thailand, at the height of the Thaksin Shinawatra government several years ago, it was rumored that "hundreds" of students worked as police informants to identify porn sites, which would then be blocked by the ISPs. However, authorities seemed intent on concentrating strictly on Thai pornography - or at least Asian pornography - because Western pornography remained fully accessible. Porn of all flavors returned with the 2006 coup, as the military took control of all ISPs, but now under the new government seems to be returning.

Indonesia will now have its try. In the Muslim country controversy over "pornography" is certainly nothing new.

In April 2006, Islamic extremists in Jakarta gave the publishers of Playboy's new Indonesian edition a seven-day ultimatum to pull it from shelves. Some violence, a burned office and a few death threats later and the publisher was forced to move his office to Bali. Yet the Indonesian Playboy contained no nude photos, not even partial or implied nudity. It was, in fact, more like fashion model spreads with attractive women. Nevertheless, the publisher was charged with distributing and profiting from indecent pictures. He was later exonerated.

Then, of course, there was the "Tiara Lestar scandal" that ended the young model's career amid angry howls in Indonesia. Lestar was featured nude in Thai and Dutch editions of Penthouse and Spanish Playboy. The images were subsequently seen in Indonesia via the Internet where they sparked outrage.

"This decision certainly wasn't popular in my own country. Heck, it was a huge disappointment for my parents, too. I regret that part of it. For that, I am sorry ... But being on the cover of Playboy can be considered the peak of any model's career," Lestar said in an interview last year. "However ... I appeared in a country that does not consider Playboy and nudity as taboo. My appearance was never intended for consumption in Indonesia. My pictures circulating on the Internet happened without my being consulted. Not offending my countrymen was one of the criteria of my decision-making process in appearing in [them]."

Lestar, it seems, didn't know much about the Internet or realize that the shots would inevitably get circulated. One might say that Lestar even agrees with the government: she loathes Internet porn.

Meanwhile, as Indonesia steps up its battle against online porn, some government ministers and Islamic hardliners seem to be overlooking the fact that Indonesia, like most Southeast Asian nations, has a bustling sex trade. From karaoke parlors, hostess clubs to bars with working girls - what's on offer within the sex trade is vast and diverse and caters to foreigners and locals alike.

So, with all this outcry and legislation against "indecency" - even of the decidedly "soft core" variety, like Playboy - one begins to wonder what the real problem is. In the world's most populous Muslim nation, it seems that gazing at scantily clad and half-naked bar girls - and having sex with them - is OK, but looking at pictures of people doing it on the Internet is a legal issue that could land you in jail.

William Sparrow has been an occasional contributor to Asia Times Online and now joins Asia Times Online with a weekly column. Sparrow is editor in chief of Asian Sex Gazette and has reported on sex in Asia for over five years. To contact him send question or comments to Letters@atimes.com.

(Copyright 2008 William Sparrow. All rights reserved. Please contact us about
sales, syndication and republishing
.)


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