Indonesia sex scandal stirs internet debate

By Karishma Vaswani
BBC News, Jakarta

  • Published
A billboard in Jakarta displays an advert for Unilever featuring Indonesian model Luna Maya (R) and singer Nazril Ariel
Image caption,
Nazril Ariel and Luna Maya have fallen from grace since the videos appeared

It is being called Indonesia's first ever celebrity sex scandal.

For the last few weeks, Indonesians have been captivated by an ongoing saga over X-rated videos that have appeared on the internet, allegedly featuring three of the country's most popular celebrities.

Pop star Nazril Irham (nicknamed Ariel) has denied any involvement, but has been charged under anti-pornography laws.

TV presenter Luna Maya and soapstar Cut Tari have also denied involvement in the sex tapes, saying the footage was doctored.

But the rate at which the videos have spread on the web has raised fears about the way Indonesians are using technology, even prompting the vice-president to voice concern about what the younger generation is doing online.

The scandal has stirred debate about attitudes to sex and internet regulation in the world's most populous Muslim nation.

Public protest

Celebrity sex scandals may be nothing new in some other countries, but in Indonesia it has got a lot of people very angry.

Demonstrations against the stars have been taking place since the videos appeared online.

Image caption,
The internet has become part of everyday life for Indonesia's youth

At a rally organised by Hizb ut-Tahrir, a conservative Muslim group known for trying to push a strict Islamic agenda, men, women and young children held posters and waved banners in the searing heat.

The adults were frustrated by what they see as the moral deterioration of their society.

Many were young parents worried about the kind of place Indonesia is turning into, and what that means for their children.

Uzham Izhar, 32, had brought her two-year-old daughter.

"We want to live in an Indonesia that follows Islamic values," she said, as she patted her daughter asleep on her lap.

"Islamic law isn't just for Muslims, it's for the whole country.

"This kind of country is very dangerous, and it is particularly dangerous for my young daughter. I don't want her growing up in this kind of Indonesia."

Her concerns are being echoed by many who are worried that the younger generation's attitude to sex and morality is not in tune with Indonesia's cultural and religious heritage.

More than 80% of Indonesians are Muslim, and while it is a secular nation, most people are still largely conservative.

But that is changing, especially among young people who have access to information in a way their parents could never have dreamed of.


All of this has put the government under pressure.

Indonesia's Communications Ministry drafted a decree last year to regulate the internet but it was not pushed through because it was seen as unpopular with the public.

Image caption,
Critics say the scandal is being used to re-introduce censorship

Now, the ministry is re-drafting the decree and says it will be in place by the end of the year.

Critics say officials are using this celebrity sex saga as an opportunity to re-introduce censorship in a country that has only recently become a democracy after three decades of authoritarian rule.

But Communications Ministry chief Basuki Yusuf says the claims are ridiculous.

"Democracy doesn't mean absolute freedom," he told the BBC in his office in central Jakarta.

"The internet is just technology. It has a good side and a bad side. We can't forget there is always a risk for the misuse and even the abuse of the internet - that it could violate our values and our future generations."

But the government seems to be out of step with Indonesia's young generation on this issue.

They resent the assumption that the only reason they are using the internet is to download pornographic material or access "immoral" content.

This is a country that is increasingly comfortable with technology.

In restaurants and cafes around Jakarta, it is not unusual to see teenagers and professionals browsing the web on their laptops, iPhones or Blackberries, and other gadgets.

There are more than 40 million internet users in Indonesia - and that number is growing fast.

Indonesian is the top Asian language on Facebook, and other local sites are also growing in popularity, which is why any clampdown on the internet is being met with stiff resistance from young people here.

Margareta Astaman is a 24-year-old blogger.

Her blog, Have a Sip of Margarita, has become so well-known that publishers have turned some of her entries about her daily life into a series of books.

She says the government is over-reacting to the celebrity sex scandal.

"We live in the internet, everything we do is on the internet, so limiting access will limit ourselves," she said, adding that it may have some negative effects in society but that the positive also needs to be recognised.

Here, as in other countries, the web has become a vital part of everyday life, especially for Indonesia's youth.

It is a forum for complaints about politicians, a place to chat and connect with friends and family, and a tool for expression.

The question this country is wrestling with is whether a new-found love of technology can co-exist with traditional values and religious beliefs.