ELSAM Press Conference: Book Banning: Unconstitutional Action that Defects Freedom of Expression

In the last few years, the issue of book banning has reappeared, particularly the books which ‘accused’ to have relation with the spread of ‘left’ ideology and thought. This action is indeed related to the stronger resistance toward the effort to resolve the past human rights violations cases, particularly regarding the 1965 – 1966 incident. There are numbers of resolution initiatives, either suggested independently by civilians and victims or official initiative by the government. And, they have got strong resistance from various groups which do not want any resolution. To make thing even worse, this opposition groups have the support from the official security forces (military and police), that are actually supposed to fully support the resolution efforts which is a state agenda.

By considering that situation, Institute of Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) criticizes the action of destroying and banning the spread of various books. The book banning is an unconstitutional action which defects the freedom of expression and the right to get information as guaranteed in Article 28 F of The 1945 Constitution. That action also no longer has a legal base because the Constitutional Court has cancelled the Law No. 4 /PNP /1963 about Control of Printed Matters which Content may Disturb Public Order. According to Constitutional Court, the absolute authority given to Attorney General for books and others printed matters is not in accordance with the principles of constitutional state. As mentioned by the Constitutional Court in the legal consideration verdict, in a constitutional state like Indonesia, the due process of law is an absolute. If there is an action that is considered against the law, then it should go through the court to get the legal decision. The case should not be given fully to a state institution without the court ruling (Decision of Constitutional Court No. 6-13 20/PUU-VIII/2010).

In the past, Indonesia has a long history of restricting the freedom of expression in many forms, including book banning. Based on the Law No. 4 /PNP /1963, government could censor every book which content is considered against with the authority vision. In the New Order regime, as pictured in above figure, at least 179 books were banned massively after Pancasila ideology applied in 1980ish. In the Reformation period, Attorney general was also based on that law, and kept conducting the book banning. In 2006, there were at least two books which were banned by the Attorney general; in 2007 there were 14 books and 13 of them were school textbooks just because the book did not add the work ‘PKI’ (communist) behind the word “G30S”. In 2008, one book was banned, and in 2009 at least five books were banned by the Attorney General. From 1968 to 2009, the total of the books that has been banned were at least 201 books.

We surely do not want to go back to the time when knowledge and books which is window to civilization were restricted in the name of public order. What makes it stranger is that we do have National Book Day, yet at the same time, we also have the book banning. Therefore, by referring to previous protection instrument which is stated in The 1945 Constitution, as well as numbers of national laws, including international law that has been ratified such as Article 19 Paragraph (2) International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and UN General Assembly Resolution No 59 (I), ELSAM urges:

  1. Security forces, either military or police, to stop all kinds of destroying, sweeping and banning on books for any reason;
  2. The police to ensure there is no illegal action such as sweeping and book banning by various community groups, and take legal action if the sweeping still occurs;
  3. Publishers and book stores to keep providing space to each book without doing self-censoring on books that are ‘accused’ to have ‘left’ content:
  4. The President to ensure every instrument and apparatus, either ministries / agencies or security forces act and perform with the constitution as the foundation, not based on each political interest.

Jakarta, 17 May 2016