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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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.