The Jakarta Post
The recent banning of the Turn Left Festival in Jakarta has raised concerns about the reemergence of excessive state control over civil liberties that was pervasive during the 32 years of the authoritarian New Order regime under former president Soeharto.
Over the past two years, police ' often with the help of intolerant civic groups ' have banned seminars, film screenings and at least one campus magazine dealing with a deadly 1965 coup attempt, a tragedy that is still shrouded in mystery today.
On Feb. 27, police and a bunch of people from an alliance of hard-line groups disbanded the Turn Left Festival ' a collaboration of artists, intellectuals and activists ' on the pretext that the gathering lacked an official permit.
Although the ban did not entirely shock the organizers, it still irked them because in the past they had staged performances at the Ismail Marzuki Cultural Center without police permits. What they had occasionally done was simply inform the police of the event so that the authorities could plan the routine security arrangements.
The ban, which forced the organizers to relocate the two-day event to the nearby offices of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation, was reportedly an attempt to prevent the launch of a book entitled History of Indonesian Leftist Movements for Beginners, as well as to stop visual art shows and seminars that aimed to provide younger people with new perspectives of the 1965 tragedy and its ramifications for Indonesia today.
The involvement of the police and their apparent favoring of intolerant religious and ultranationalist groups that consider leftist movements to be supporting communism has been raising some eyebrows.
Meanwhile, the forced dispersal of the events meant to be intellectual exercises is a worrying sign of the return of the 'permit politics' that Soeharto commonly used to effectively silence dissent.
Imposing restrictions on the freedom of speech, as state apparatuses did with the Turn Left Festival, is both mindboggling and irrelevant nowadays when the country prides itself as being the world's third largest democracy.
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