Balinese Say No to Anti-Porn Bill

About 1,000 Balinese dressed in traditional sarongs rallied on Wednesday to protest against a controversial anti-pornography bill that critics say could hurt local cultural traditions.

The anti-smut bill aims to shield the young from pornographic material and lewd acts, but also contains provisions that could jail people for kissing in public and criminalise many forms of art or traditional culture that hinge on sensuality.

Lawmakers in the world's most populous Muslim nation have so far stopped short of passing the bill which has been in parliament for over three years because of criticism it would threaten Indonesia's tradition of tolerance.

But some political parties are hoping for its approval this month when the final draft is tabled in parliament. One Islamic party's lawmaker has said the bill would be a Ramadan gift.

"We in Bali see the body as aesthetic, but the pornography bill sees the body as an object of sin," said Sugilanus, one of the protesters at the rally in Denpasar, capital of the predominantly Hindu island of Bali.

Nude sculptures and paintings are common in culturally-rich Bali, which earns most of its income from domestic and international tourists.

"Reject the pornography bill," some protesters shouted as they performed a sensual traditional dance while others carried banners saying, "The porn bill is not a gift but humiliation for the nation".

Earlier this week, Bali's governor, Made Mangku Pastika, rejected the parliament plan for passing the contentious bill.

Balinese lawmakers plan to go to Jakarta next week to pressure members of parliament to drop the controversial draft, Ida Bagus Putu Wesnawa, chairman of Bali's house representatives, said.

"We strongly reject the implementation of the pornography bill and we urge all community elements not to allow regulations that potentially separate the nation to be issued," Wesnawa told the crowd.

Illegal explicit material is available in Indonesia, and television programmes regularly feature bared flesh and sexual innuendo.

Lawmakers watered down the bill following criticism and street protests over the issue early last year. Critics say it could pave the way for vigilante groups to take the law into their own hands under a pretext of upholding morality.

Militant Muslim groups in Indonesia, particularly since the fall of former president Suharto in 1998, have sporadically taken vigilante action against red-light areas or liberal publications deemed offensive.

(Writing by Telly Nathalia; Editing by Sugita Katyal and Sanjeev Miglani)