Sex Tape Scandal Fixates Indonesia

A series of jerky, pixelated video clips allegedly showing top Indonesian stars having sex has prompted debate over government efforts to punish and censor immorality in this Muslim-majority country, writes

Since early June, videos allegedly showing the pop singer Nazril Irham, popularly known as Ariel, having sex with his actress girlfriend, Luna Maya, and a married television presenter, Cut Tari, have spread rapidly across the country via social networking sites, cellphones and pirated DVDs.

Like celebrity sex scandals anywhere, the case has prompted plenty of head-shaking. But this being Indonesia, where laws old and new criminalize acts deemed immoral, those involved in the scandal could suffer more than just embarrassment.

The police have so far questioned at least two celebrities about the videos, and news reports have said that investigators are on the trail of people suspected of distributing the clips online.

The chief detective of the national police, Gen. Ito Sumardi, said the authorities probably would use a controversial 2008 anti-pornography law to charge those responsible for distributing the videos. The law was passed at the urging of Islamic parties, against the resistance of some secularists and religious minorities. It includes heavy penalties for those who download or produce pornography — which critics say is defined so broadly that it could effectively criminalize many of Indonesia’s diverse non-Islamic cultures.

General Sumardi said the celebrities could also be charged if it could be shown that they produced the videos for the consumption of others.

“It depends on whether the clips were stolen, if the laptop was stolen,” General Sumardi said. “We’ll know after questioning if it was really stolen, when and where. We have to check their alibis.” He added that the police could also arrest those involved with the videos under a separate information technology law.

The sex scandal has opened a debate in Indonesia between defenders of free speech and social conservatives who see the situation as a reason for further moral regulation.

“The spread of this video is very worrying, especially if the government or the information minister try to use it to implement a ministerial regulation on new media content,” said the chairman of the Alliance of Independent Journalists, Nezar Patria. “It’s kind of a test, not only of how far the anti-pornography law can be used, but also a test of how the instruments of the government respond to content that wasn’t around five years ago.”

The newspapers initially gave the videos front-page coverage, and news channels broadcast extracts of the clips until they were rebuked by the national broadcasting commission. Articles have carried reports that around 30 videos of Mr. Irham with dozens of women have yet to be released.

Discussion of the scandal, dubbed Peterporn after Mr. Irham’s band, Peterpan, briefly became the most popular topic worldwide last week on the social networking site Twitter.

In response, the police have raided Internet cafes and schools have searched students’ cellphones.

Advertisers have deserted the celebrities allegedly involved in the scandal, despite their denials. Both Mr. Irham and Ms. Maya, who interviewed Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton during her visit to Jakarta last year, have seen their advertisements for the soap brand Lux removed.

Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring, a member of the Islamic Prosperous Justice Party that pushed the 2008 anti-pornography law through Parliament, said the scandal was a good reason to revive plans that were floated this year to censor the Internet. The ideas were shelved after public objections and the lukewarm response of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

“Indonesia is still free, but in the future we will try to minimize the amount of access to pornographic sites,” Mr. Sembiring said, adding that any filter would also block blasphemy, gambling, violence and online fraud.

“I think today the people understand about the usefulness of that regulation,” he said.

“We need to make the same regulation as Australia, the same as Singapore, but not like China, I think.”

Mr. Sembiring said that it was unlikely anyone would be charged under the anti-pornography law for the videos, but that those involved in one video could be charged under provisions in the criminal code banning adultery.

Despite the tough talk from conservatives, the videos remain freely available. For social liberals, they reflect Indonesians’ attitudes toward religion and sexuality — evident in traditional customs, often-racy popular culture and a thriving commercial sex industry.

“We try to close our eyes that it doesn’t exist in Indonesia, but it does exist in Indonesia,” said Julia Perez, a model, actress and singer famous in the country for skimpy outfits and sexually suggestive lyrics.

“We cover it with religion, we cover it with culture, but we have to open our eyes, us Indonesian people, that there exist people like that who love sex — sex is normal, sex is like what you need.”

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