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

Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Seen as a potential driver of recovery, Cairo’s plan to expand waterway had been raising hopes to give country much needed economic boost More

Ebola Maternity Ward in Sierra Leone First of its Kind

Country already had one of world's highest maternal mortality rates before Ebola arrived, virus has added even more complications to health care More

Malaysia Flight 370 Disappearance Ruled Accident

Aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014; with ruling, families of 239 passengers and crew can now seek compensation from airline 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.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid