Banning Premarital Sex: Moderate?
As has already been widely reported, Indonesia’s new criminal code is something else indeed. The most ado that has been made about it is, of course, its prohibition of cohabitation and sex outside marriage, which is now punishable with imprisonment. (It also apparently applies to foreigners as well as residents, so think twice before taking that romantic getaway to Bali with your fiance.)
But there’s more! Under the new code, criticizing senior government figures is now verboten, and the blasphemy law—as if this were necessary—has been made even vaguer. In other words, the passage of these new laws is an enormous victory for religious authoritarianism.
Yet this was all the product of drawn-out negotiations—according to one Indonesian official, a “middle ground”! If one can believe it, religious conservatives were pushing for even more repressive measures in this new criminal code.
Should we be thankful that Indonesians will be spared the harsher prison sentences the hardliners wanted for these new “crimes”? To those of us who believe in freedom of conscience and expression, it seems like a rather rusty silver lining.
Iran’s Boot Presses Down Harder
In the midst of historic demands for an end to the Islamic Republic of Iran—spurred on by the murder of Mahsa Amini for failure to adhere to hijab guidelines—the theocratic regime has executed its second victim in connection with the protests: Majidreza Rahnavard, a 23-year-old man. He had allegedly killed two members of a paramilitary force connected to the Iranian government. According to the BBC, Majidreza’s mother “was not told of the execution until after his death.” Barbarous and horrific, which is the entire point.
This execution comes shortly after another 23-year-old man, Mohsen Shekari, faced the same fate. He stood accused of “block[ing] a main road in Tehran” and wounding a paramilitary fighter. The time from arrest to execution was only a little more than two months. Mohsen’s and Majidreza’s “trials” have been rightly labeled by human rights organizations as shams bereft of due process.
These executions, sure to continue, are just one side of a multifaceted prism, designed to instill terror and fearful obedience to religious doctrine and authority.
Iranians, thankfully, continue to fight back, both through ongoing protests and strikes as well as through more… irreverent means.
Nigeria: No Longer a Religious Freedom Concern
As a final matter for the week: each year, the United States Department of State reports on religious freedom around the world, violations of that principle by state and non-state actors, and designates “countries of particular concern” (CPCs) where religious freedom is in serious danger or nonexistent. Nigeria received this designation in 2020—but not this year.
Nigeria is divided into a predominantly-Islamic north and a predominantly-Christian south—by no means a homogenous land, either in religious custom or religious law. Still, as blasphemy against Islam remains punishable with death in many of those northern states—and as the Supreme Court has just upheld a cleric’s death sentence for that crime and reaffirmed the legality of the death sentence for it—removing Nigeria from the CPC designation seems misguided.
Any country where blasphemy is punishable with death (or any penalty) is of particular concern for religious freedom: such laws are unequivocally and inherently incompatible with the principle.