People Innovation Excellence


Oleh SHIDARTA (Mei 2016)

Since the collapse of Soeharto’s regime in 1998, Indonesia seemingly enters the new era of its truly democracy. The wind of change has been accelerated by the rapid development of information and telecommunication technology. Mass media are continuously growing in quantity and each of them relatively enjoys a legally guaranteed freedom of expression. Many believe it is also a good gesture of the country for becoming more transparent and mature in dealing with differences in its pluralistic societies.

Book writers and jurnalists are few communities who are very fond of these circumstances. But, apparently, the “honeymoons” have been at risk after the series of controversial banning of books at the end of 2009 and currently in May 2016. For instance, the Jakarta Post newspaper in its publication on May 12, 2016, reported that Tegal Distric Military Command seized some books regarding the defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) from a book exhibition at a local shopping mall. In several regions, the repressive actions not only happen in the form of book banning, but also in that of detaining people by police and military personnel if they find people wearing T-shirts thought to be have PKI imagery.

Book banning was a very common tool practiced during the era of Suharto’s government, called as the New Order regime, who used it to outlaw any material considered a threat to the authoritarian power. There are some sensitive topics raised in books that can trigger for the banning, such as communism and its related ideologies, Soekarno’s ideology of marhaenism, ideologies for an Islamic state, Chinese traditional culture, anti-Soeharto and antigovernment sentiments, and business empires of Suharto’s family members and his cronies.

Not all topics are still sensitive so far, except communism. The book banning policy on the topics of communism is still in place after the Soeharto regime stepped down in 1998. Just in 2010, there was a judicial review action brought by a media watchdog organization, some publishers, and writers asking the court to overrule the provisions in Law No. 4/Pnps/1963 on Securing Printed Materials. On October 13, 2010, the Constitutional Court of Indonesia had ruled that Law No. 4/Pnps/1963 whose content could disrupt public order, which allowed the Attorney-General’s Office (AGO) to ban books, is unconstitutional and therefore no longer legally binding. The judges considered that the sole authority of the Attorney General to ban the distribution of printed materials without due process of law is a characteristic of an authoritarian state and not a rule-of-law state like Indonesia. However, the Court rejected the argument that a 2004 law giving the AGO the authority to supervise printed material was also unconstitutional. Furthermore, the ruling still provides an avenue for banning printed material that is considered dangerous or controversial, with power resting with the courts rather than officials at the AGO. One of the judges stated that if an action is categorized as being against the law, the process should be through the courts. Therefore, the authority to ban printed materials considered liable to disrupt public order cannot be given in an institution without a court ruling. (see:

Article 30 paragraph (3) of Law No. 16 Year 2004 on the Public Prosecution Service of the Republic of Indonesia states that in the areas of public order and security, the public prosecution service has some duties, among other things to oversee in respect of the circulation of printed materials. The elucidation of this article explains that the tasks and authorities stated in this article should be a preventive as well as educative measures in line with Indonesian current regulations. Banning book is just an example to materialize the preventive and educative actions carried out by the prosecutors. This article does not explicitly determine that the public prosecution service (let alone the AGO as the highest level in the body) is the only institution who can conduct the oversight of printed materials. The action can be taken along with other government institutions. But we still do not know whether the involvement of police and military personnel in the actions of book banning in several regions currently, was such a collaborative action.

The authority to oversee the printed materials is not the same as the authority to ban them. There should be a due process of law that gives enough rooms for writers and readers to secure their rights of the freedom of expression. The publc prosecution service should not ban certain printed materials without any rationale. One of the reasons commonly conveyed by the AGO is that the  content of the book against the national ideology of Pancasila. Communism is the most common ideology considered not in line with Pancasila and it is forbidden to spread out in this country. But, the AGO itself does not have clear indicators on how to judge whether certain printed materials against the ideology of Pancasila.

In many bookstores in this country, we can find several books written by Pramudya Ananta Toer, for instance, are displayed openly eventhough those are still prohibited since the New Order Regime. Such a prohibition has never been lifted. The AGO seems unaware about the spread of the prohibited books and let them be available publicly. So, what the AGO believed as the sensitive topics in the past, may be not quite sensitive any longer today. But, why the AGO is not considering lifting the ban, for later on, freed people read these books?

If we want to make our people become more intelligent, book banning is not the right choice of action. Sources of information are not only provided in books. There are abundant information available in the Internet. They can download e-books regarding whatever issues. Such prohibition would only make people become more curious to get information about sensitive issues that concern the government. It is the task of the state to create ” counter-ideology ” movements by publshing other books based on different perspectives. Let the people assess what the most trusted information will be.

If we are sure with our choice of becoming a democratic society in a pluralistic nation, such a book- banning policy is counterproductive. It just draws criticisms, as many believe it can be the resurgence of Soeharto’s oppressive era. (***)

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