In Indonesia, it’s been dubbed the ‘Morality bill’ – a frighteningly frigid criminal code that would make it illegal to have sex in Indonesia without a marriage certificate or live together without being married. While President Joko Widodo has postponed the bill’s date with parliament, the news wheel suggests that the highly restrictive ‘draft criminal code’ legislation has support from all the major Indonesian parties.  

Now, while the noble pursuit of the barrel is at the forefront of most surfers’ minds when they travel to Bali and beyond, both female and male surfers have been known to throw a leg over after a big night out at Single Fin or Ku De Ta.

If the current law is passed it would technically give the authorities the mandate to put you in jail for a little harmless jiggy-jig.

The move to introduce the restrictive legislation is widely considered to be the result of conservative Muslim elements exerting their influence over the political domain. More than 87% of Indonesia is Muslim (not all conservative) and many of the stricter factions have slim tolerance for the free-wheeling antics of westerners in Bali.

An example of what happens when a more fundamental interpretation of Islam is applied can be seen on the Indonesian island of Simeulue, now a popular surfing location. Simeulue is north of Nias and part of the Aceh province, where a form of Sharia law is applied. It is illegal for a man and a woman who are not married to be in a secluded place together in Aceh. This is called khalwat and it is punishable by up to nine lashes, a fine of 150 grams of gold or 15 months' imprisonment.

A couple of years ago a couple of high profile female pros tried to surf a well-known right point in Simeulue, wearing bikinis. The display of flesh was seen as an insult to local laws and it wasn’t long before the girls were greeted on the point by an angry, machete-wielding mob.

Those are extreme examples and Simeulue is a long way from Bali, which is estimated to be about 83% Hindu and home to a local population that has a more open-minded attitude towards late-night dalliances.

However, if the legislation is passed does it mean that authorities in Bali can come storming into hotel rooms to seize couples as they perform what Shakespeare called the beast with two backs? The Balinese are the last ones to endorse this kind of legislation because they know what impact it may have on their tourist trade. Even if the law was passed it seems unlikely that they would be in a hurry to stringently apply it. However, the Bali police force is not immune to corruption and such a law could hypothetically be used as a form of bribery with couples or as a reason to prosecute when other charges don’t stick.

The good news is that it seems the youth across Indonesia are vehemently opposed to the laws. Over the past couple of days, thousands of students have hit the streets of Jakarta and gathered outside of parliament to demand that the government suspend its plans to ratify the code, which also includes a clause, which makes it a crime to insult the president. The passionate protestors were ultimately hit with tear gas and water cannons for demonstrating against what they saw as proposed laws that were a major violation of human rights and democratic freedoms that would send Indonesia back to the dark days of Suharto rule. Similar protests against the bill erupted in Sumatra and Sulawesi, which will also make having an abortion a jailable offense for women.   

Students in Jakarta protest against the introduction of draconian laws.


At present, the situation hangs in the balance and news reports suggest that opponents of the bill fear the government will endeavor to push it through in the final days of its term. If it is approved it will undoubtedly have a dramatic effect on Indonesian culture and more than likely impact the way surfers travel in the region.