Bali is worried it could lose its status as Australia’s favourite beach playground amid widespread protests in response to draconian government laws and a crackdown on tourists behaving badly in the beach resort.
This week, student protesters clashed with police across the country as they rallied against proposed changes to the country’s criminal code, which would ban consensual sex outside of marriage, restrict sales of contraceptives, and prohibit non-married couples from living together.
Those caught breaking the law — including holiday-makers — could face up to a year in jail.
Protesters are also angry over harsh new jail terms proposed for anyone who insults the president or vice president, as well as another law which has already been passed weakening the country’s anti-corruption agency.
Two students died in the violent clashes, one was shot dead and one suffered blunt-force head injures during riots that erupted in Kendari city on Sulawesi island.
Amnesty International Indonesia warning there was “plenty of evidence” of police beating demonstrators and using excessive force.
“It’s clear that the unlawful use of excessive force by police is contributing to a volatile situation,” it said.
In Jakarta, footage showed people being dragged through the streets and hit with tear gas as protesters took aim at the government over a number of causes.
Footage on social media, posted under the hashtag #BaliTidakDiam or Bali Is Not Silent, showed crowds of students snaking through streets, chanting into megaphones and raising their fists in the air.
As the anger swelled, the chairman of Bali’s tourism board warned some Australians had already cancelled their holidays in fear of the reforms and were turning to Thailand instead.
“We should do something or the island will be empty this October, November and December,” Ida Bagus Agung Partha Adnyana said on Monday.
“Bali is in head-to-head competition with other countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and others. That’s a fact. And the Australian market is being contested.”
Bali’s deputy governor, Tjokorda Oka Artha Ardhana, also stressed unmarried Australian couples were unlikely to face jail time if the laws were passed.
“I can guarantee that unmarried couples will face no jail time, as long as there is no complaint from their husband, wife, child or parents,” he told the Jakarta Post.
According to the proposed legislation, charges may only be laid if a spouse, child or parent lodges a complaint.
“Basically, they could not be jailed unless their wife, husband, parent or child lodges a complaint or reports them to the police,” he said.
The backlash from the tourism industry prompted Indonesian President Joko Widodo to indefinitely postpone the sex ban.
But on Wednesday, the Bali Hotels Association was still seeking to quell fears, urging tourists to “stay calm and continue their activities (or planned activities) as usual”.
“The ‘Adultery Act’ is still a recommendation and has not yet been formally issued and cannot be enforced,” it said.
Last week, the Australian Government updated its travel advice for Indonesia, warning tourists to exercise a “high degree of caution” while visiting the country.
“The Indonesian parliament is in the process of passing a revised criminal code,” it said.
“The code will not enter into force until two years after it has been passed. A large number of laws may change and these will also apply to foreign residents and visitors, including tourists.”
More than one million Australians visit Indonesia each year and it is the number two destination for all outbound tourists, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The protests follow recent comments from Balinese governor I Wayan Koster who warned that “disrespectful tourists” would be “sent back home”. He is seeking stricter laws to curb bad behaviour on the island after a string of tourist mishaps including brawling, theft and drug posession.
“In the near future we will make a regulation to take firm action against tourists that commit ethical violations or offend the norm in Bali. We will send them back home,” Koster said earlier this month.
“This is not only for Australian tourists. This is for all tourists, wherever they come from”.
The mass protests in Indonesia are some the largest seen in the last 20 years and come just as Mr Widodo prepares to begin his second term in office.
They share some parallels with the protests in Hong Kong, where students took to the streets in June to oppose a controversial new extradition law that the government was later forced to withdraw.
Those protests, however, have refused to let up, with demonstrators now demanding stronger independence from China.