Saturday, October 16, 2010
Indonesia resorts to last-gasp measures to censor books
In a move condemned by critics as totalitarian, the government announced plans to bar the sales of certain books, just days after the Constitutional Court revoked its au-thority to ban the distri-bution of printed material. The Justice and Human Rights Ministry is currently reviewing around 200 books suspected of carrying content that “pose threats to the country’s unity”.
Earlier reports said 20 of the books were under strict review that was likely to end in the books’ removal from store shelves. The books, the ministry argued, promoted separatism, terrorism and violence. Ministry official Hafidz Abbas stated on Friday that the ministry’s efforts to study the contents of the books “will definitely lead to” filing of requests to courts to ban the books.
It is a characteristic of a totalitarian state to try to find out how books are going to cause problems in order to dispute them in courts.
The Constitutional Court on Wednesday ruled to expunge a 1963 law on book banning. The ruling stripped the government of its authority to ban books deemed controversial, but judges said books could still be banned. They said the decision to remove books from circulation should rest with the courts. The book banning authority was practiced mostly by the Attorney General’s Office, which banned 22 books since 2006, including 13 history textbooks for use in junior and senior high schools.
The AGO’s banning of books began with Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s Hoakiau di Indonesia (The Chinese in Indonesia) being one of the very first books to be pulled off shelves. The AGO has banned more than 400 books since then including other works by the late author. The banning of books stopped when former president Soeharto was toppled, but the practice resumed in 2006.