Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Indonesian Attorney General Loses Power to Ban Books
Jakarta. In a landmark verdict, the Constitutional Court on Wednesday struck out a law that gave the Attorney General’s Office the power to ban books, saying such power should rest with a judicial court.
“The 1963 Law on Securing Printed Materials whose content could disrupt public order is against the Constitution,” court chief Mahfud MD said. “The law is no longer legally binding.”
Justice Ahmad Fadlil Sumadi gave a dissenting opinion but his argument was not immediately clear.
Muhammad Alim, another justice, said that in a state governed by law, confiscating or banning publications and books should be done through the process of law.
“If an action is categorized as being against the law, the process should be through the courts,” he said.
“Therefore, [authority to] ban goods such as printed materials considered liable to disrupt public order cannot be given to an institution without a court ruling,” Alim said.
“The authority of the AG to ban printed material or books without a court process is the approach of an authoritarian state, not one based on law like Indonesia.”
The law was used under the regime of former dictator Suharto to clamp down on dissent.
Speaking after the court verdict, Mahfud said that in an emergency, when printed material was deemed dangerous, the AGO could still seek court permission to temporarily ban or confiscate the material pending the court process.
“If it is urgent, before a verdict the AGO can ask permission of the court, but there should be certainty that it [the book] is dangerous,” Mahfud said.
However, the Constitutional Court decided to reject a judicial review of the 2004 AGO Law that gives the office the authority to monitor printed material.
The deputy attorney general for intelligence, Edwin Pamimpin Situmorang, declined to comment on the verdict before having studied it. But he conceded that there was no avenue left to challenge it.
Government representative Mualimin Abdi welcomed the ruling as it still provided an avenue to deal with printed material considered dangerous.
The authors of such dangerous printed material “can be reported [to the police] according to the Criminal Code or could also be sued through the administrative court,” he said.
In the past six years, the repealed law has been used by the AGO to ban 22 books, most of them dealing with the murky coup attempt in 1965.
The AGO’s latest blacklist included a book on the mass murder of suspected communists in 1965-66, the insurgency in Papua and two books on religion.
The legal challenge to the law was mounted by several authors and publishers who argued that the AGO’s powers curtailed freedom of expression.
Author Darmawan, one of the plaintiffs, hailed the ruling as a “historical turning point.”
But Theodora Erlijna, a historian from the Institute of Indonesian Social History, one of the parties who filed for the review, warned that “there is still a long way to go.”
Theodora pointed out that there were other laws that could be used to ban books, such as the Criminal Code, the 2008 Anti-Pornography Law and the 1965 Blasphemy Law.