Conservatives in Indonesia Seeking More Repressive Pornography Law

Times Staff Writer

After model Andhara Early posed for Indonesia’s first Playboy edition and landed on its cover, police called her in for questioning.

Investigators asked her to explain what she was doing in each of the five photos in her eight-page spread. It made no difference that she didn’t pose nude -- or that the photos were no more revealing than a lingerie ad.

“Police asked me whether my picture was pornography or not,” she recounted. “I said, ‘It’s not. It’s art, definitely art.’ ”

Playboy’s entry to the Indonesian market has fueled debate over what constitutes pornography and how women should behave in the world’s most populous Muslim country.


Indonesia, more moderate than most Muslim nations, faces mounting pressure from a growing conservative Islamic movement to pass a law redefining the concept of pornography and outlawing behavior that clerics consider an affront to Islam.

A measure before parliament would ban “pornoaksi,” or porno action, a newly created offense so broad that it could include wearing a miniskirt or baring a navel. Kissing in public would be punishable by up to five years in prison. Dancing erotically could bring seven years. Exposing body parts that could be deemed erotic would be punishable by as much as 10 years.

“If you wear something sensual or sexy, it will be considered pornography,” said Gadis Arivia, a professor of human rights and Western philosophy at the University of Indonesia who has helped organize opposition to the bill. “It will criminalize a lot of women in Indonesia.”

Opposition to the measure has been especially strong in Bali, the predominantly Hindu island that depends heavily on tourism. Some worry that restrictions on attire could ban traditional Balinese dress and scare off foreign tourists accustomed to wearing revealing clothing. At one point, the governor of Bali threatened to secede if the bill was passed.


The threat of having to cover up has stirred moderate and middle-class Indonesians to political action, something that has seldom occurred since President Suharto was ousted and democracy was ushered in eight years ago. Opponents have organized demonstrations, launched a petition drive and pressured members of parliament to reject the measure.

“It’s frightening because we see Indonesia being slowly turned into a conservative country,” said Arivia, who attended high school in the United States. “We are scared to death that Indonesia will become an Islamic state. The majority of people would not want that.”

Although more than 85% of the population is Muslim, the country is officially secular. Conservative Islam has been gaining ground since Suharto’s fall in 1998. A series of deadly bombings funded by Al Qaeda and carried out against Western targets by local terrorist cells has demonstrated the success of Islamic extremists in appealing to disaffected young Indonesians.

Authorities in Aceh province on Sumatra and the city of Tangerang on Java have adopted Sharia, or Islamic law, leading to harsher treatment of suspected gamblers and prostitutes. Other communities are considering following suit.

Advocates of the anti-pornography legislation contend that a new national law is needed because existing laws and penalties are not “repressive” enough. Under today’s standards, people may become too accustomed to seeing sensual dress or behavior, said Fauzan Alanshari, spokesman for the militant Indonesia Mujahedin Council.

“People might say that breasts are not pornography because they get used to seeing breasts,” he said. “People might lose their sensitivity. We need the bill so that it will be more specific and thus it will be more repressive.”

Alanshari said the bill would protect children from the possibility of encountering women wearing erotic attire.

“I’ll give you an example,” he said. “There’s a prostitute wearing a sexy dress. I can control myself by not looking at her. But what about my children? So, we have to have a regulation to protect the public’s rights. The public’s rights include my right to protect my children.”


The bill’s sponsors say it has strong support in parliament, which is roughly 90% male. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a former general, has not taken a public position on the issue. But he recently disclosed that he had stopped a singer from appearing at a presidential function because her belly button was showing.

“I was really disturbed,” the president said. “I told the singer to go home even before she performed in front of me at the state palace.”

Opponents of the bill point to the adoption of Sharia in Tangerang, a city of 2 million next to Jakarta, as reason to be concerned.

During a police sweep one evening in February, Tangerang authorities arrested Lilies Lindawati, a 35-year-old waitress, and 26 other women as suspected prostitutes. The pregnant mother of two had been on her way home after trying to collect her last paycheck from the restaurant where she had worked.

She was not allowed to contact her husband, a teacher, and was denied a defense lawyer for her trial the next day.

“Lots of government officials and residents were gathered there,” she told reporters later. “They were laughing at us as if we were part of a show.”

Despite her denial, she was found guilty of prostitution because she had lipstick and other makeup in her purse. She couldn’t afford the $35 fine and spent three nights in jail. She filed a wrongful arrest suit last month against the mayor, seeking $57,000 in damages.

Although the first Indonesian edition of Playboy contained no nudity -- disappointing many buyers -- anti-pornography activists targeted the magazine because of its international reputation.


Soon after release of the first edition in April, Islamic militants demonstrated outside the magazine’s Jakarta office. Some threw rocks at the building, breaking windows of the bank downstairs.

Cheap pornography is readily available in major cities, but Playboy Editor Erwin Arnada says the Indonesian edition is a “lifestyle” magazine. He says he wants people to buy it for the articles. The first edition carried pieces on politics and global warming and one of the last interviews with noted author and former political prisoner Pramoedya Ananta Toer, who died soon after.

“We have to change the content to fit Indonesian culture,” he said. “We will never publish nude pictures.”

After receiving complaints from Islamic activists, police called in Arnada, cover girl Early, and centerfold model Kartika Oktavini Gunawan, who had posed showing a bare midriff in one photo and a naked shoulder and bare thighs in another.

Arnada, 41, who runs several other magazines and has produced half a dozen horror films, said officers questioned him for more than five hours but could not uncover any violation of the law. Police asked him not to distribute Playboy at newsstands in Jakarta, the publication’s biggest market, but it is unclear whether Playboy will honor the request.

The first edition sold all 100,000 copies and has become a collector’s item, going on EBay for as much as $100. But the controversy has cost the magazine most of its advertisers, and the price of the next issue will more than double to $10.

Early, 26, a Muslim and the mother of a 9-month-old baby, said she was “proud” to be on the cover of the first Indonesian Playboy. Her sudden notoriety has resulted in a flood of job offers and interviews. But she is concerned that the proposed anti-pornography law would hinder the growth of democracy and impose a strict form of Islam on all Indonesians, whether Hindu, Christian or Muslim.

“I don’t support pornography, but this bill is vague,” the model said. “It’s about freedom of speech. People should be able to say whatever they want.”