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Jakarta Post

Writers continue to resist, navigate censors

  • Ati Nurbaiti and Ni Komang Erviani

    The Jakarta Post

Ubud   /   Sun, November 1, 2015   /  02:55 pm

The young writer Eliza Vitri Handayani went around the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival selling her own novels from her backpack, wearing a T-shirt depicting a scene from her novel '€” because her book launching was among those canceled at the event.

The local bookstores said they would sell her novel, From Now On Everything Will Be Different, after the festival ends on Nov. 1, she told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

'€œAfter I was notified last Friday that my event was canceled, I commissioned five T-shirts depicting five different scenes from the novel,'€ she said. She wore the T-shirts alternately throughout the festival, which started on Nov. 29.

'€œThe censors never learn,'€ said a smiling Eliza, as her books quickly sold out to curious buyers.

Festival founder Janet de Neefe reiterated that police could take steps to revoke the festival'€™s license in the future, thus organizers had to opt to cancel several of the festival'€™s around-200 events.

The cancelations have led to wide criticism of the authorities, but also of the festival organizers whom critics accuse of bowing too much to pressure for the sake of the event'€™s continuity. The festival was initiated to help Bali rebound after the 2005 bombings and after 12 years has gained the support of dozens of sponsors.

The canceled sessions included discussions and book launchings on novels related to the 1960s upheaval, but Eliza says her novel is about today'€™s reformasi generation. '€œWe want to explore what it means to be free,'€ she said.

The festival'€™s Indonesia program manager I Wayan Juniartha said '€œan internal review'€ of the novel concluded that it contained references to real events that could cause controversy.

'€œIn accordance with the request of the local government and police that the organizers cancel events that could potentially cause controversy and do not comply with the permit of the festival as a cultural, arts and tourism promotion event, organizers decided to cancel the book launch,'€ Juniartha said.

However, the cancelation also extended to a session on Bali'€™s controversial Benoa Bay reclamation plan, which was moved to a venue outside the festival on Saturday.

The launch of the novel Crocodile Hole, a translation of the 2003 novel Lubang Buaya by Saskia Wieringa, was also held Thursday at a small restaurant near a festival venue, with several police and plainclothes officers questioning the venue owner and organizers from the Serikat Jurnal Perempuan (Women'€™s Journal Association).

Organizers were seen joking with the officers, selling them the novel and their journals and taking pictures.

Police were also seen outside some other events, including the late Friday screening of a film by Timor Leste'€™s Francisca Maia, Desizaun (Decision).

On Saturday'€™s panel titled '€œUncensored'€, writers urged for a continued resistance against censorship, but also negotiation in tricky circumstances. Senior journalist Endy M. Bayuni urged people to take legal action against authorities for violating Indonesia'€™s constitutional right to freedom of speech.

Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch said people should be cautious but not fearful.

With attempts at legal action, he said, typically with '€œthe beauty of censorship in Indonesia,'€ documents ordering the cancellation of events were unlikely to be found.

Endy of the Post said that if de Neefe '€œhad not called the bluff'€, the unrest that police warned could happen would likely eventuate.

Participating writers also held up posters including those reading '€œFreedom of speech = human rights'€. Earlier a petition against censorship at the Ubud festival gained signatures from more than 200 prominent writers.

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