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

Ukraine: Mysterious 'Roaming Tank' Reportedly Takes Aim at Smugglers

Ukraine's TV, print media, Facebook abuzz with reports a 'roaming tank' is on the loose, destroying vehicles of those involved in smuggling More

US Wildlife Service Begins Probe of Killing of Cecil the Lion

Minnesota man accused of killing beast is in hiding, has been asked to contact US officials; White House to review extradition petition More

Video Kerry Five-Nation Tour to Cover Security, Iran Nuclear Deal

Secretary of state will visit Egypt, Qatar, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam to discuss security issues, Iran nuclear deal, Trans-Pacific Partnership 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.
Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’i
X
July 29, 2015 9:34 PM
Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video 'Metal Muscles' Flex a New Bionic Hand

Artificial limbs, including the most complex of them – the human hand – are getting more life-like and useful due to constant advances in tiny hydraulic, pneumatic and electric motors called actuators. But now, as VOA’s George Putic reports, scientists in Germany say the future of the prosthetic hand may lie not in motors but in wires that can ‘remember’ their shape.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video 'Positive Atmosphere' Points Toward TPP Trade Deal in Hawaii

Talks on a major new trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations are said to be nearing completion in Hawaii. Some trade experts say the "positive atmosphere" at the discussions could mean a deal is within reach, but there is still hard bargaining to be done over many issues and products, including U.S. drugs and Japanese rice. VOA's Jim Randle reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs