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By one estimate, over 2,000 books were banned by the New Order government.91 Under a law still in effect, all works which, in the view of the Attorney General, “could disturb public order” are subject to censorship.92 Under this law, hundreds of novels, historical studies, religious tracts, and books on political and social controversies have been banned, including scholarly works on subjects from early twentieth century social movements, to liberation theology, to the rise of Asia as a center of global capitalism.93

The broad censorship practiced by the Soeharto government has had a direct impact on scholarship and the academic community. The Indonesian National Library keeps copies of banned books, but such books are inaccessible without the prior approval of security authorities. Researchers and students are, in principle, able to apply for permission to use such books for academic study, but in practice they must obtain prior permission from the State Intelligence Coordinating Body (Badan Koordinasi Intelijen Negara or Bakin), the Coordinating Agency for the Maintenance of National Stability (Badan Koordinasi Bantuan Pemantapan Stabilitas Nasional or Bakorstanas), and the attorney general’s office. These authorities have untrammeled discretion to delay or refuse to issue permits for use of the books.94 Because of the permit requirements, the National Library is often forced to deny permission to students and others.95 Although many academics and intellectuals keep copies of banned books and there is an active market in photocopies of such works, they are rarely used in classrooms except by the most critical and fearless lecturers. Because publications of studies based on such sources could damage one’s career, references to banned works are absent from the works of all but a handful of scholars.

Book censorship in Indonesia did not begin with the New Order. In 1963, President Sukarno issued a decree, PP no.4/1963, requiring publishers to submit copies of all books to their local prosecutor’s office within forty-eight hours of publication. The decree vested the attorney general with broad power to criminalize possession and seize all copies of works which “could disturb public order [and] have a negative influence on efforts to achieve the goals of the [Indonesian] Revolution.”96 Within a month of the coup attempt, this decree was used to ban all works by writers who belonged to the Indonesian Communist Party or its affiliates. In 1969, the Soeharto government enacted the decree into law and subsequently built up a bureaucratic infrastructure to implement the law.

During the 1970s and 1980s, most censorship decisions were initiated by one of the New Order security and intelligence bodies. In October 1989, a “clearinghouse” was formed to study the contents of books and make censorship recommendations directly to the attorney general. The clearinghouse is composed of nineteen members, including representatives of the attorney general’s office and all of the leading intelligence agencies in the country, including the State Intelligence Coordinating Body (Badan Koordinasi Intelijen Negara or Bakin), the Coordinating Agency for the Maintenance of National Stability (Badan Koordinasi Bantuan Pemantapan Stabilitas Nasional or Bakorstanas), and the Armed Forces Intelligence Agency (Badan Inteligen ABRI or BIA), together with representatives from the ministries of information, education, and religion. Today, most censorship decisions are made by the attorney general on the advice of the clearinghouse.

A wide range of works is subject to censorship. In 1996, the Jakarta daily Kompas listed criteria used by the government in making censorship decisions. Works subject to censorship include those which: conflict with the state ideology or national constitution; contain Marxist-Leninist teachings or interpretations; destroy public faith in government leaders; are pornographic; are atheistic or insult a religion recognized in Indonesia; undermine national development; lead to ethnic, religious racial or inter-group conflict; or undermine national unity.97 Because there is no provision in the law for compensation for those whose books are seized, publishers and book stores that carry controversial works take a substantial financial risk. Because banning also criminalizes possession, it can also be used to keep critics on the defensive. A prominent example occurred in 1989 when three students were arrested, convicted of subversion, and sentenced to jail terms ranging from sevento eight and a half years for, among other things, possessing and attempting to distribute copies of Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s banned novels on the rise of Indonesian nationalism.98

A study of the impact of the government’s censorship on scholarly inquiry has not yet been undertaken, but previous works have noted the impact of the policy on the availability of social science texts, poetry and fiction, commentary on and analysis of contemporary political controversies, and alleged government abuses.99 Because Marxist-Leninist teachings are banned, professors in the social sciences can be subject to harassment. In 1988, for example, Dr. Arief Budiman, a sociologist at Satya Wacana Christian University (see above) was accused by a university alumni group of teaching Marxism to students, and the complaint was forwarded to the regional armed forces headquarters (Korem). As Dr. Budiman responded: “How can you know if someone is a Marxist if you don’t know what Marxism is? . . . I have never suggested that students become Marxist. I teach about Marxism because it is part of the theoretical and ideological study of development.”100

Virtually all works by authors alleged to have been communists or communist sympathizers continue to be banned, whether those works were written before or after the 1965 coup attempt. Prominent among such authors is Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Indonesia’s best known novelist. Some two dozen works of fiction, a memoir, and a number of significant historical studies by Pramoedya, including works on the Chinese in Indonesia and on important historical figures Tirto Adhi Suriyo and Kartini, are banned. Even his edited edition of one of Indonesia’s first novels, Hikayat Siti Marijah, by Haji Mukti, is banned on the ground that the novel emphasizes “social contradictions.”101 Students who wish to write their theses on Pramoedya’s works have been denied permission to do so by their advisors and university administrators.102 Pramoedya is accused by his critics in Indonesian literary circles of having denigrated and subjected other writers to abuse when he headed the literary section of the leftist cultural organization Lekra (Lembaga Kebudayaan Rakyat or Institute of Peoples’ Culture) in the 1950s and early 1960s. Pramoedya was jailed for fourteen years after the 1965 coup attempt as a suspected communist based on his work for Lekra. None of these claims justify the continued censorship of his writings. Pramoedya is a prolific and respected author, and his works represent a gold mine for literary and cultural critics that was all but lost to the scholarly community as a result of the arbitrary censorship practices of the New Order government.

Publications in Chinese have been banned altogether. As described above, ethnic Chinese were made the subject of de jure as well as de facto government discrimination following the 1965 coup attempt, amid allegations that the coup plotters received support directly from Beijing through Chinese-Indonesian intermediaries. All Chinese-language schools were closed permanently in 1966. Because the closures were carried out almost overnight, many students lost the ability to continue their education.103 In late 1978 and 1979, a series of government decrees formally banned all imports of goods with Chinese characters, and forbade use of Chinese characters in all publications and circulation of any Chinese-language printed matter, absent the express consent of the authorities, with the exception of a government-run newspaper.104 Again, although there was an exception in the regulations for academic study of Chinese-language materials, the ban has had devastating consequences for the development of scholarship on China in Indonesia, and has all but closed off discussion of the status of the Chinese-Indonesian community and its role in recent Indonesian history.105

Historical studies have been a leading target of the censors. In almost every case, the rationale for censorship contained in the attorney general’s censorship decision is that the offending work “inverts the facts” which could “lead the public astray” and ultimately “disturb public order.” Censorship thus presupposes an official history. In at least one case, this was made explicit. In 1990, the attorney general banned Permesta: Kandasnya Sebuah Cita-Cita (Permesta, the End of Hope), by KML Tobing, an account of the Permesta Rebellion in Sulawesi during the late 1950s. According to the censorship decree, the book was banned because it “contains analyses that conflict with the work Cuplikan Sejarah Perjuangan TNI Angkatan Darat (Aspects of the History of Struggle of the National Army),” a work published by the Armed Forces.106

Other historical works banned in the past decade include the following:

As many of the titles on the above list suggest, historical studies of the 1965 coup attempt are routinely banned. The generation that experienced the events of 1965 is now growing old, and there has been an outpouring of works on the coup, its precursors and its aftermath. Censorship encompasses works with contributions from leading Indonesian scholars as well as eyewitness accounts, such as memoirs, which serve as important sources for historians.

On April 22, 1996, the Indonesian Attorney General issued a directive banning the book Bayang-Bayang PKI (Shadows of the Indonesian Communist Party), a collection of essays and transcripts of seminar presentations on the events surrounding the 1965 coup attempt, first published in December 1995. The book, produced by the Institute for the Free Flow of Information in Jakarta, an independent research and publishing house established by Goenawan Mohamad, provides a summary of the existing scholarly literature on the attempted coup, and includes interviews with a number of eyewitnesses, including retired Lieutenant General Kemal Idris, one of the military leaders responsible for suppressing the communist party after the coup attempt; Manai Sophian, who was a Indonesian Nationalist Party leader in the 1960s, and Cosmas BatuBara, a retired minister under President Soeharto and former leader in the student movement which played an important role in the transfer of power to Soeharto. The book also includes contributions from retired historian Ong Hok Ham and University of Indonesia political scientist Arbi Sanit.

In the preface to the book, Goenawan Mohamad explains that the book highlights the many unanswered questions remaining about the coup attempt and issues a call for renewed scholarship. The censors responded by silencing the debate. The justification for the ban given in the attorney general’s directive is that the book “Inverts or obscures facts on the history of G30S/PKI [the attempted coup], and includes tendentious explanations . . . that could lead [readers] to an erroneous viewpoint, leading the public astray and ultimately disturbing public order.”108 The directive does not explain what facts are twisted or what explanations are tendentious.

On September 25, 1995, the Indonesian Attorney General issued a directive banning the book Memoar Oei Tjoe Tat (The Memoirs of Oei Tjoe Tat), a work edited by Pramoedya Ananta Toer and Adi Prasetjo (Stanley) and published in April 1995 by PT Hasta Mitra. The author, seventy-three at the time the book was released, was Indonesia’s first Minister of State of Chinese ancestry, and had served a twelve year jail term for alleged involvement in the attempted coup. The book gives Oei Tjoe Tat’s version of the events surrounding the coup and the transfer of power from Sukarno to Soeharto, and is a rare account of the Chinese community in Jakarta at the time of the coup.

After the book’s release, the book was attacked by a group called Fosco ‘66 (Forum Komunikasi ‘66, or Communication Forum ‘66), a group of prominent New Order supporters. Fosco ‘66 sent a letter to the attorney general detailing a list of what they perceived as historical inaccuracies in the memoir and requesting that it be banned. The author also was accused of using his memoirs to attempt to clear his name from involvement in the coup. Oei Tjoe Tat responded to the criticism by saying simply that although the memoir is entirely subjective, as it is based on his recollection, it is accurate to the best of his ability, and he challenged his detractors to demonstrate any alleged falsehoods. Acting on advice of the clearinghouse, the attorney general banned the book on the ground that the book includes passages that “lead [the reader] astray, invert the historical facts, and put down the New Order government and national leadership.”109 The directive concludes that the book “could generate mistaken opinions especially in the younger generation and thus lead to public unease, ultimately disturbing public order.”

As these cases demonstrate, censorship played an important role in defining New Order ideological orthodoxy and frequently was used as a weapon against political opponents. Academics, students, and scholarship itself suffered as a result.

91 Adi Prasetjo (Stanley), “Orde Baru 31 Tahun, 2,000 Judul Buku Dibredel,” Tempo Interaktif, January 29, 1996.

92 Farid Hilman, Pelarangan Buku di Indonesia (unpublished book manuscript, dated September 1997, on file at Human Rights Watch), p. 16. 93 Ibid., pp. 47-62 ; “Mengapa Buku Dilarang,” Media Kerja Budaya 3, February 1996, pp. 4-9; PEN American Center Freedom-to-Write Committee, Censorship, Silence, and Shadowplay: Freedom of Expression in Indonesia, 1994 (New York: PEN American Center, 1994), passim.; Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia), Stability and Unity on a Culture of Fear (Bangkok: Forum Asia, 1995), pp. 138-46.

94 See “Buku Terlarang, Dibuang Sayang, Dibaca Jangan,” Kompas, January 16, 1996.

95 Ibid.

96 Hilman, Pelarangan Buku, p. 16.

97 "Dari Mana Datangnya Pelarangan?,” Kompas, January 16, 1998.

98 Human Rights Watch/Asia, Injustice, Persecution, Eviction, pp. 7-16.

99 On the social sciences, see Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia), Stability and Unity on a Culture of Fear (Bangkok: Forum Asia, 1995), pp. 138-139. On poetry and fiction, see PEN American Center Freedom-to-Write Committee, Censorship, Silence, and Shadowplay, pp. 18-33; Hilman, Pelarangan Buku, pp. 69-79; Forum-Asia, Stability and Unity, pp. 141-143. On contemporary political controversies, see Forum-Asia, Stability and Unity, pp. 143-146; Human Rights Watch/Asia, Injustice, Persecution, Eviction, pp. 51-53. On alleged government abuses, see Hilman, Pelarangan Buku, pp. 47-58; Forum-Asia, Stability and Unity, pp. 144-145; Human Rights Watch/Asia, Injustice, Persecution, Eviction, pp. 51-53.

100 Quoted in Kurniawan, Catatan yang Tercecer, ch. 6, p. 6.

101 “Mengapa Buku Dilarang,” Media Kerja Budaya 3, February 1996, p. 6.

102 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Made Toni, June 23, 1998.

103 Charles A. Coppel, “Patterns of Chinese Political Activity in Indonesia,” in J.A.C. Mackie, ed., The Chinese in Indonesia: Five Essays (Melbourne, Australia: Thomas Nelson Ltd., 1976), p. 64.

104 Hilman, Pelarangan Buku, pp. 19-21; Patrick Walters, “Indonesia relaxes ban on Chinese language,” The Australian, August 4, 1994.

105 Human Rights Watch interview with Th. Sumartana, Yogyakarta, September 22, 1997.

106 Hilman, Pelarangan Buku, p. 34.

107 Hilman, Pelarangan Buku, p. 50.

108 Ibid., p. 58.

109 Ibid., pp. 56-57.

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