News / Asia

Indonesia Reverses Law Banning Books

Multimedia

Audio

Indonesia's Constitutional Court has reversed a law that gave the attorney general's Office the power to ban books. Rights activists and authors hail the verdict as a victory for free expression, but some officials say curbs on free speech are still necessary in this young democracy.

Indonesia has become one of Southeast Asia's most vibrant democracies since autocratic President Suharto resigned in 1998. The government has removed many limits on free expression and the press ranks among the most open and diverse in the region.

But several authoritarian regulations remain in place. Until recently one law allowed the attorney general's office to ban books. Since Indonesia's first direct elections in 2004, the law has been used to ban more than 20 books on issues such as military operations and the separatist insurgency in Papua.

Earlier this year a group of authors whose books were banned in 2009 asked the Constitutional Court to review the law, which they argued was out of line with Indonesia's democratic values.

Several weeks ago, the court agreed, ruling that the power to restrict printed material should rest with a court.

But Uni Zulfiani Lubis, chief editor of Indonesian television network ANTV and also a member of the Press Council that monitors Indonesia's media operations, says the ruling is not a complete victory.

"It's good news, but not enough," Lubis said. "And we cannot depend on this decision to give us the guarantee that there will be no effort like this from the government, especially the AGO (Attorney General's Office) to ban publications."

Rights activists say President Suharto often used the 1963 law on book banning to clamp down on dissent. Its use over the past decade, they say, undermines Indonesia's commitment to democracy and shows the government's continued discomfort with free expression.

The five books the attorney general banned last year were about sectarian conflict, separatist sentiment in Papua and events surrounding the coup attempt that helped bring Suharto to power in 1965.

Some Indonesian officials indicate they are not willing to entirely give up book bans.

Presidential advisor Teuku Faizasyah says Indonesia is open to free expression, but banning is justified if done to keep peace and unity in society.

"We as government need to prevent incitement, which is leading to violence and other horizontal conflict," Faizasyah said. "So in the best interests of the general public there is always need a balance in how we can manage the issue of freedom of expression, but there is also the need to ensure the safety and harmony within the society."

Indonesia is home to hundreds of different ethnic groups, and though most of its 240 million people practice Islam, there are also sizeable Christian and animist populations.

In recent months officials have warned that religious radicals threaten public harmony after small groups of Islamists attacked a Christian congregation outside Jakarta. Vice President Boediono says these groups have used freedom of expression to spread hate.

Faizasyah says the government must also be sensitive to Indonesia's cultural complexities.

"We are not at the same level of acceptance in so many parts of our society in terms of expressing ideas which are against some cultures and basic religious belief," Faizasyah added.

Lubis with the Press Council says certain restrictions are valid, such as a ban on child pornography. But she says most of the government's censorship is politically motivated, and she worries that even with limits to book banning, the government still has plenty of ways to criminalize free speech.

Under the recent ruling, courts will have the final say in deciding whether a book should be banned, but the general prosecutor and police can still investigate and sue authors or publishers they say disturb public order.

Harsh defamation laws have raised questions about free speech here. And rights activists worry that an electronic information and transaction law meant to monitor dangerous on-line exchanges could be used to justify Internet censorship.

In recent months the country's prosecutors used a controversial anti-pornography law to charge Erwin Arnada, the former editor of Indonesia's now-defunct Playboy magazine.

Although the publication contained no nudity, the Supreme Court sentenced Arnada to two years in prison for indecency. Media freedom groups, such as Reporters Without Borders, say the courts imposed the sentence under pressure from Islamic groups.

Lawyers for the team that challenged the general prosecutor's right to ban books say the verdict is a step in the right direction. But the Alliance for Independent Journalists says cases like Arnada's are evidence that people will have to keep pushing for the right to free speech in Indonesia.

You May Like

Uganda Court Annuls Anti-Gay Law

Court says law was passed in parliament without enough members present for a full quorum More

Multimedia Thailand Makes Efforts to Improve Conditions for Migrant Laborers

In Thailand, its not uncommon for parents to bring their children to work; one company, in-collaboration with other organizations, address safety concerns More

In Indonesia, Jihad Video Raises Concern

Video calls on Indonesians to join Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, ISIL More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborersi
X
Steve Herman
August 01, 2014 6:22 PM
Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video In Thailand, Some Efforts to Improve Conditions For Migrant Laborers

Thailand has been facing increasing international scrutiny as a hub of human trafficking and slave labor. Some of the kingdom’s companies are striving to improve working conditions, especially for the millions of migrant laborers from surrounding countries. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok takes a look at one initiative for children at construction sites
Video

Video Public Raises its Voice on Power Plant Pollution

In the United States, proposed rules to cut pollution from the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants are generating a heated debate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, charged with writing and implementing the plan, has already received 300,000 written comments. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, another 1,600 people are lining up this week at EPA headquarters and at satellite offices around the country to give their testimony in person.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video China Investigates Powerful Former Security Chief

The public in China is welcoming the Communist Party's decision to investigate one of the country's once most powerful politicians, former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang. Analysts say the move by President Xi Jinping is not only an effort to win more support for the party, but an essential step to furthering much needed economic reforms and removing those who would stand in the way of change. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.

AppleAndroid