The recent public outrage over the banning of five books deemed controversial by the Attorney General's Office and the disappearance of George Junus Aditjondro's recently released book linking President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's inner circle with the Bank Century bailout debacle has raised the serious issue of vestiges of long-forgotten, ancient authoritarian rule mind-set among government officials. The Jakarta Post's Niken Prathivi digs deeper into the issue.
Presumably, a longing for the glorious days of the authoritarian Soeharto era has prompted officials from the Justice and Human Rights Ministry and the AGO to stubbornly pursue their plan to ban more books.
The ministry is currently reviewing 200 recently published books, with 20 of them under strict reviews that are likely to end in removal from bookstore shelves.
Most of the books, according to the ministry, are subject to screening as they fueled movements toward the nation's disintegration.
Apart from carrying themes revolving around the restive provinces of Papua and Maluku, most of the books are also about religious discrimination and smear.
"It is indeed our duty to review any printed publications, especially those containing provocative motives to disintegrate the nation," Hafid Abbas, the ministry's research and development division head, said recently.
He added that filtering out published books was part of his division's main efforts "to maintain the nation's unity".
"We are facing a silent war against foreign adversaries who are trying hard to destabilize Indonesia's sovereignty through publications. Therefore, we have to be prepared and fight back."
Hafid cited the example of an annual book, arranged by a local NGO and allegedly sponsored by the UN, which encouraged the independence of West Papua from Indonesia.
"This kind of publication is politically driven by foreign entities," Hafid said.
Other books under review concern the Sept. 30, 1965, alleged coup attempt by the now-defunct Indonesian Communist Party, corruption, and history of the Old Order and the New Order.
Hafid said the ministry's review would be passed on to the AGO for further screening by a Clearing House team.
The Justice and the Human Rights Ministry is not part of this team, which consists of the AGO, the Religious Affairs Ministry, the National Education Ministry, the Information and Communications Ministry, the National Police, the State Intelligence Agency, the State Information Agency, the Indonesian Military and the Indonesian Ulema Council.
Each institute has the authority to propose titles for review by the team, which will draw up a verdict on the fate of the books.
However, the AGO has the final say on whether to issue a ban.
Previously, the AGO banned five books in Indonesian, including the translation of Pretext for Mass Murder: The September 30th Movement and Soeharto's Coup d'Etat in Indonesia by John Roosa. Others include Six Paths to God by Darmawan M. M, and Resolving the Mystery of Religious Diversity by Syahrudin Ahmad.
The two other banned books were The Voice of Churches for Suppressed People, Blood and God's Tears in West Papua by S. Sofyan Yoman, and Lekra Never Burns Books by Roma Dwi Aria Yuliantri and Muhidin M. Dahlan.
The AGO claims these books regarding faith and spirituality could spread heretical ideologies and create public confusion.
"The bans were issued because the books may disturb public order," AGO spokesman Didiek Darmanto said.
Didiek, however, admitted there were no precedents of a published book actually disrupting national stability and security.
"We want to prevent anything before it happens."
He said once the AGO issued a ban, any individual or institution in possession of the banned books was required to submit them to law enforcement officials.
According to Didiek, the AGO has the legal basis to issue bans, including the 2004 AGO Law and a 1963 law on circulation of printed materials that could disrupt public order.
However, he said a banned book would be able to return to bookstores once there was a recommendation from any of the institutions in the Clearing House.
Book authors and publishers are able to challenge the team's decision to ban by bringing the case to the administrative court.
Didiek said the AGO would maintain its authority to screen and ban any problematic books unless the government and legislators revised existing censorship laws.
Deputy program director for Policy Research and Advocacy ( Elsam ), Indri D. Saptaningrum, said the bans were driven primarily by the ancient mentality of excessive fear of free speech rather than alleged threats of instability and disruption of public order.
"The bans are issued possibly only because of suspicions the books contain issues related to communism, Marxism and spiritual and racial smear," Indri said.
These issues were the most sensitive during the Soeharto regime, which was concerned they would trigger nationwide unrest and protests against the dictatorship.
It was not until mid-1998 after the downfall of the regime that democracy and reform movement swept across the archipelago.
However, the institutions of the Clearing House are those largely remained untouch by reform, with most of their senior officials prot*g*s of the Soeharto regime.
While hoping for change in their mind-set may be futile, a group of NGOs is currently planning to file judicial review requests with the Constitutional Court over the laws governing book banning.
LEGAL BASIS FOR BOOK BANNING
1. The 1963 Law on Securing Printed Publication which Contains Messages Disrupting Public Order. The law was issued under former president Sukarno and covers printed publications containing messages that could possibly cause disruption to public order and negatively influence revolution efforts. Article 1 of the law stipulates that anyone who keeps, owns, announces, distributes, trades and reprints banned publications will face a maximum of one-year imprisonment or Rp 15,000 fine. The law defines "disturbing public order" as any conduct that contradicts the Constitution, laws or general norms in society that may cause disturbances to the ideology, politics, economy, society and culture, as well as security and defense.
2. The 2004 AGO Law. Article 30, covering the AGO's authority to maintain public order, stipulates the AGO has the authority to monitor the circulation of printed materials. The law was enacted during the administration of former president Megawati Soekarnoputri.