At every traffic junction, hawkers push magazines such as Maxim and FHM, as well as glossies with local stars in seductive poses on their covers.

At suburban cinemas, viewers can choose from titillating Bollywood films with such titles as Kama Sutra, to the more hard core Rape Fantasy.

But if Indonesian legislators have their way in parliament, it won't be just Glodok porn vendors who will feel the heat; under a sweeping anti-pornography law currently being drafted, even kissing in public will be banned.

According to the bill, the act of asking someone to kiss in public would be enough to land a five-year jail term besides hefty fines. The gyrations of voluptuous folk pop queen Inul Daratista, whose "drilling" dance has been condemned as "porno-action" by Muslim clerics, would of course be banned.

Displaying belly buttons, thighs and shoulders could attact a five-year prison sentence, and any art considered "sensual" would be banned.

Moral decline

In the wake of the newly published local version of Playboy magazine, conservative Muslims, including the influential Prosperous Welfare Party as also the United Development Party, argue that Indonesia needs restrictive laws to halt what they see as its moral decline.

"Our criminal code is not effective. We have a lot of porn on the internet, on television and everywhere," said Yoyoh Yusroh, a legislator from the Prosperous Justice Party who backs the bill.

"At 2pm in the afternoon, children can see performers sing about sexual relations," she added.

But the bill has come under fire from women's groups, artists, and religious leaders.

Restrictive laws could hurt Bali's
cultural and tourist attractions

Its impact is worrying Indonesians from the highlands of remote Papua, where men traditionally wear a penis gourd and little else, to Bali, where worshipping representations of male and female genitalia is traditionally part of the mostly Hindu island's religious practices.

Indonesia has the world largest Muslim population – 85% of the 220 million people are Muslim - but most follow a syncretic version of Islam, which combines Hindu, Buddhist and animist beliefs. In addition, millions follow the minority faiths of Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism.

In Batam they fear the conservative dress code will drive away Singaporean and Chinese tourists who like to bare their shoulders or legs.

And in Java, traditional dancers who wear transparent lace shirts and perform sensual movements as part of the Jaipong dance, see the law as an attack on their culture.

Bali's concerns

On the island resort of Bali, people fear that the vague terms in the draft law, which ban any display of sensuality and "erotic" performances except in government-sanctioned buildings, will outlaw all their cultural and religious events, thus wiping out the island's major tourist attractions.

"A lot of Balinese culture takes place in the street, in the community hall, or where ever. Will this all be banned?" asked Cokorda Suwitri, an artist who has been organising rallies against the bill.

Out of Indonesia's 220 million
people, 85% are Muslim

"From morning until night people will be afraid they are doing porno-action," she said, referring to the vaguely described offence of pornographic performances.

The threat of such an attack on their culture and tourist revenues has even prompted some to threaten to declare independence.

"If this bill is passed, we won't hesitate to leave the Republic of Indonesia," said Putu Gede Indriawan Karna, the Bali head of the Indonesian National Youth Committee recently.

In turn, the Indonesian Mujahidin Council (MMI), a group of Muslim conservatives founded by the jailed cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, said if Bali doesn't want to follow the law, it should be designated as a special "dirty zone".

"If they (Balinese) reject it, it's better we amend the law so Bali can become a special autonomous region for pornography," Fauzan al-Anshari, MMI's head, said.

Al-Anshari claimed that a majority of Indonesians supported the bill, hence the Balinese would just have to accept majority rule as part of "democracy".

Kissing controversy

Joko Anwar, a film-maker responsible for Indonesia's first gay screen kiss in his film Arisan, says the legislators and clerics behind the morality drive, are out of touch with the attitudes of Indonesia's mainstream Muslims, who he says are overwhelmingly moderate.

"For them, violence is okay, kissing is bad. Love is bad, but war is good," he said, referring to the religious conservatives.

The proposed law seeks to put an
end to sale of pornographic VCDs

Indonesian TV does not air graphic sex scenes, but scenes of conflict, close-up shots of corpses, and violent Hong Kong action films are frequently aired.

Many Indonesians agree that the country needs to clamp down on the rampant sale and production of pornography, but they argue that if police enforced existing laws, there would be less porn on Jakarta's streets.

"There are at least four articles in the criminal code to tackle the sale of pornographic VCDs," says Leo Batubara of the Indonesian Press Council.

Batubara admits that the law regulating pornographic content in broadcast media, which ban the broadcasting of "obscene" shows, is vague. But he argues it would be better to tighten existing laws.

"Indonesia doesn't need an anti-pornography law. What we need is to deal with hard-core porn in the criminal code," he says.

Existing laws

Batubara and the press council urged the parliamentary commission which drafted the law to abandon it, and instead tighten existing laws, which would differentiate between hard-core pornography and adult entertainment.

"Children can be protected from soft-core stuff by limiting the timings of some programmes, which can be shown only after 11pm at night," he said.

"I don't agree with certain groups that are forcing the country to impose Arab values on other groups here"

Eva Sundari,
PDI-P legislator

Muslim legislators insist that the critics are overly worried about the proposed law, and that they will modify it to include viewpoints from across Indonesia.

"It's still in discussion. We will perfect it," said legislator Yusroh. A new draft of the law, which will focus on combating the distribution of pornographic materials, is due in May, says Yusroh.

Suwitri, the artist, has met the legislators backing the bill, and is not reassured. She says they have little idea how the law is biased against Indonesia's non-Muslim minorities and how it could be exploited.

"I think this is the way to open the door for Sharia law," she says, citing reports of police in Batam already patrolling the streets and asking women to cover up.

Suspicious

Parliamentarians from the nationalist Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), which enjoys the support of non-Muslims and traditional Javanese, also views the draft law with suspicion.

"I understand your case. I don't agree with certain groups that are forcing the country to impose Arab values on other groups here," legislator Eva Sundari from PDI-P told a recent parliamentary discussion.

Another legislator, Mustofa Bisri from Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia's largest Muslim organisation, has called for adequate debate and consultation on the issue.

He has also condemned Muslim groups pressuring parliament to pass the law, describing their action as "a manifestation of panic of Muslims who have no self-confidence".