10 Januari 2010

Banning books: A flashback to the colonial era

Published on The Jakarta Post (http://www.thejakartapost.com)

Niken Prathivi , THE JAKARTA POST , JAKARTA | Sun, 01/10/2010 3:50 PM | Special Report

Banning publications, a vestigial trait from the colonial era, remains a deep-seated cultural legacy despite the nation having enjoyed almost 12 years of democracy, critics say.

University of Indonesia historian Anhar Gonggong believes the recent banning of five books was a sad episode in the reform era where the right to free public speech was strongly upheld.

"Only authoritarian regimes justify the banning of publications by citing the need to maintain order," said Anhar.

"That has been happening in our country, since the colonial era."

Anhar, who experienced Independence Day as a child, said in colonial times, mass media carrying strong messages of freedom were deliberately targeted.

According to a 1999 report by Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM), the ruling Dutch authority used criminal law to suppress subversive publications to halt independence movements.

In 1930, authorities issued a law to stifle critical writing in the media, and in 1939, another law authorized the use of the military to confront stubborn printing companies.

Authorities also prohibited Malay-Chinese and Low-Malay languages, which were considered "non-literature" pieces at the time.

The culture of banning remained well after independence in 1945.

Indonesia's first president Sukarno seemed to enjoy the comforts of censorship when he issued the 1963 law on publication banning, aimed mostly at books about ideologies that opposed Sukarno's socialism.

"Books about liberalism were erased from existence during that period," Anhar said.

But Sukarno's penchant for censorship, according to Anhar, could be traced back to the 1950s when he ordered the Army chief to control the content of publications.

Sukarno's target was media critical of his policies, and those publishing stories about corruption and mismanagement in the administration.

Indonesia Raya was one the victims of the ban. Its editor-in-chief, Mochtar Lubis, served time in prison for criticizing the government.

Sukarno's successor, Soeharto, continued the banning certain publications citing the need to maintain public order.

Under his administration, at least 2,000 publications were removed from bookstores.

Similar to Sukarno's ruling, Soeharto ordered authorities to detain individuals or institutions who expressed ideas that ran counter to Soeharto's ideology. Any media voicing such thoughts risked closure.

"The administration would ban any book or publication, as well as revoke the mass media's license should they contain items deemed to undermine the administration," said Anhar, citing Pedoman and Indonesia Raya as examples.

Among the high-profile books banned by the administration was Soeharto and His Generals: Indonesia Military Politics, 1975-1983 by David Jenkins, released in 1984.

The book showed the extent to which Soeharto and his military generals went to maintain power.

After the downfall of the Soeharto administration in 1998, the public enjoyed an atmosphere of free speech and democracy unbridled by censorship. Banning was a sinful word in the public.

Previously prohibited publications crept back onto bookstore shelves, showing the public a different view of their world.

Pramoedya Ananta Toer's banned pieces were among the books widely read after Soeharto's fall. His books were previously only available outside the country.

However, the moment in the sun for freedom of expression was short-lived.

Publication bans began to be carried out discreetly by the authorities in 2002, according to analysts.

"In the reformation era, it should have been unthinkable to see books being banned. Unfortunately, this practice still haunts us," Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) historian Asvi Marwan Adam said.

According to Asvi, the string of high-profile book banning included the reckless revocation of a series of junior high history textbooks in 2007.

"The banning of a history textbook is ironic. The author of the book, which was published in 2004, was deemed to have intentionally omitted two important milestones: the Madiun Incident in 1948 and the September 30th Movement in 1965," he said.

"After the ban, the government eventually realized these events were covered in a separate textbook in the same series."

Asvi noted that beginning in 2007, the rate at which the Attorney General's Office banned books had constantly increased.

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