Ramadan prompts porn crackdown in Indonesia

If citizens can't refrain themselves, a Muslim-run ministry will do it for them

John Dyer By John Dyer

On a weekly basis, Latitude News relates some of the odder stories we’ve run across in the world press. This week, we’ve got stories about Indonesia’s porn prohibition, Putin’s motorcade follies and the worldwide shark menace.

During the Islamic holy month of Ramadan — this year running from July 19 to August 18 — Muslims are expected to abstain from drinking, eating and engaging in sexual relations between sunrise to sunset.

To help good Muslims stick to those rules, the Indonesian government is cracking down on pornographic websites, The Jakarta Post reports. The government so far has blocked one million sites, most run from outside the country, the paper reported.

“We are responsible for protecting the younger generation from consuming destructive pornographic content,” says Ashwin Sasongko, an official at Indonesia’s Communications and Information Ministry, which is enforcing the ban.

But, freedom of expression concerns aside, it seems the move is as much about image — pun intended — as about substance.

First, Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring is a conservative member of the Islamic-based Prosperous Justice Party. He isn’t even in favor of men touching women who aren’t their wives or relatives. In an incident that brought new meaning to the phrase “pressing the flesh,” Sembiring said he was “forced” to shake First Lady Michelle Obama’s hand when she offered it to him during a visit to Jakarta.

Indonesian Communication and Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring. (Reuters/Dadang Tri)

Second, while Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country in the world, it’s not clear if there is a groundswell of support for anti-porn initiatives there.

Citing a Google study, the Post reports that the archipelago has the third-largest number of Internet surfers seeking pornographic sites, after China and Turkey. Major Internet service providers reported 2.5 million attempts by Indonesians to find porn online, the paper added.

Yet the Information Ministry said that officials had received 100 million public complaints about online porn this year. In 2011, the government received only 835 complaints, the paper said.

We don’t know if the 100 million tally of complaints is overblown. We do know this: Despite the crackdown, Indonesians can still log onto two million porn sites, the paper said.

“We urge people to restrain themselves from trying to access any of those porn sites,” said Sansangko. “Because no matter what, they will always be available.”

Some are more equal than others

Protesters against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rule are becoming more creative.

In a video of the Russian presidential motorcade entering the Kremlin for Putin’s inauguration, a Russian activist group called the Society of Blue Buckets noticed that Putin’s limo didn’t have a front license plate, RIA Novosti reports. Here’s the video:

Under Russian law, motorists driving without a front plate reportedly can be fined as much as $150 or lose their license for a few months. So the Blue Buckets complained to the Russian police, demanding the law be strictly enforced, presumably as a snub against Putin, the former president who served his maximum two terms in a row, then was appointed prime minister and who then recently was elected president again.

The police got back to the Blue Buckets two months later, twice as long as the law permits, and said they couldn’t identify the driver, even though the car was clearly part of the president’s motorcade, the news service says.

Somehow, I think the Blue Buckets expected that.

Sharks galore

In the U.S., it feels like shark sightings are becoming more common. Take, for instance, the video of a shark trailing a kayaker off Cape Cod. The video went viral, instilling a sense that sharks were lurking under every inflatable raft between Maine and Miami Beach.

No one has been killed yet, thank the Lord, at least in the U.S.. Australia hasn’t been so lucky. Sharks have killed at least five people in the country so far this year, leading some to call for a cull of the sometimes-dangerous, always awe-inspiring creatures.

But the Australian news site Crikey argues that people’s fears of sharks are overblown. Compiling statistics from 2010, when sharks killed four Australians, the news site compares the lethality of the big fish with common household accidents:

More people died from falling from a ladder (27 deaths) or drowned in an accident involving a water craft (24) or a swimming pool (22) than died in shark attacks. Similarly, swine flu (19 deaths) had a higher toll than sharks, while 14 died in falls involving a chair, and five died as a result of accidental contact with broken glass. Being bitten or struck by a dog claimed four lives  — the same number as those killed by marine animals.

The moral of this story? Be afraid of ladders. Be very afraid.