A group of prominent activists on Friday demanded the Attorney General’s Office put an end to the controversial policy of banning politically sensitive books.
“Banning books constitutes a violation of the human rights recognized in the 1945 Constitution and is against the universal declaration of human rights,” said Jaleswari Pramodawardhani, a senior researcher at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI).
“In a democratic country, restrictions should apply only to books that clearly spread racial and sectarian hatred, war propaganda or violence,” she said, reading a statement signed by 82 lawyers, human rights activists, senior journalists and clerics.
Any publication restrictions should be decided in a fair trial, the group said. The signatories include renowned lawyers and rights campaigners Adnan Buyung Nasution and Todung Mulya Lubis, senior journalist Goenawan Muhammad and noted rights activists Patra M Zen and Usman Hamid.
The AGO last month banned five books that were described as “having the potential to erode public confidence in the government, cause moral decadence or disturb the national ideology, economy, culture and security.”
The five, all written in Bahasa Indonesia, include two left-wing books, “The September 30 Mass Killing and Coup by Suharto” and “Lekra Doesn’t Burn Books.”
Three religious books are also being examined: “Church Voice for the Suffering People: No More Blood and Tears in West Papua,” “Six Ways to God” and “Uncover the Mystery of Religious Diversity.”
AGO spokesman Didiek Darmanto said the ban was not meant to restrict the freedom to express opinions. “The ban is imposed on the publishers, not the writers of the books. Those five books must not be distributed or reprinted, but the AGO doesn’t ban people from expressing their opinion,” he said.
According to a law issued in 1963, the AGO has the authority to control publications for public order. The AGO is therefore “breaking no rules” in banning publications if they are considered harmful to public order, he said.
But bans can only be issued following a joint meeting of prosecutors, police and officials from the National Intelligence Agency, the Ministry for Religious Affairs, the Ministry for National Education and the Coordinating Ministry for Political, Legal and Security Affairs.
During his 32-years of authoritarian rule, former President Suharto banned the publication of all left-wing books, based on a 1966 decree by the People’s Consultative Assembly.
The decree states that the spread of communist teachings, in all forms, is strictly banned in the country. Suharto took the presidency in 1966 after a failed 1965 coup attempt blamed on the Indonesian Communist Party.
According to an AGO regulation issued in 1998, prosecutors may ban books that could “erode the government’s authority or cause public disorder.”
Additional reporting by Antara