Markus Junianto Sihaloho & Putri Prameshwari
The banning of Australian film “Balibo” showed that there was no real democracy in Indonesia, film activists said on Wednesday, although government and military officials welcomed the ban.
Film director Riri Riza said that even though it was predictable, the ban showed that censorship was still rife in the nation despite its claims to democracy.
“We have never moved away from [Suharto’s] New Order era,” he said. “At least in the context of film censorship.”
Riri said that unless something was done, the National Film Censorship Board (LSF) would continue restricting films considered too controversial or critical.
The film tells the story of five journalists who were killed when the tiny border town of Balibo in East Timor was taken over by Indonesian forces in October 1975. A sixth journalist died weeks later when Dili was invaded by Indonesian forces.
The so-called Balibo Five, according to official Indonesian and Australian government accounts, died in the crossfire as Indonesian troops fought East Timorese Fretilin rebels.
Abduh Azis, chairman of the Indonesian Film Society, said the ban made it even clearer how the country was now facing a crisis in freedom of expression. “This is a serious problem,” he said.
Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said the restriction was to protect the country’s image abroad.
“What we have to be cautious of, is not to let this film affect the global perception of Indonesia. If it [the ban] is explained well, then I think there will be no problem,” Marty told Agence France-Presse.
Balibo’s director, Robert Connolly, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he was disappointed by the censorship. “I had high hopes for the film and the impact it may have had if it had been screened in Indonesia.”
The Indonesian Armed Forces said was fully behind the ban. Military spokesman Air Vice Marshall Sagom Tamboen said the movie would only reopen old wounds. It would harm the good relationship between Indonesia and East Timor, as well as between Indonesia and Australia, he said.
“It is a correct decision for the LSF to ban the movie,” Sagom said. “If the movie had been played, then it means that we justify their accusation that the military did shoot the journalists to death. For us, the Balibo case is over. The journalists were killed accidentally in crossfire between Indonesian troops and Fretilin. They were not shot by Indonesian troops,” he said.
The families of the dead newsmen have long insisted official accounts were a lie and they have kept up a steady campaign for decades to bring justice to their loved ones.
An Australian coroner’s inquest in 2007 found that the five were killed deliberately by Indonesian forces, a finding that eventually prompted Australian Police to launch an official investigation into the incident two months ago.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has said the investigation was a step backward and could harm relations between the two nations.