Rescind AGO book ban right: Rights body

Rescind AGO book ban right: Rights body
, 16 June 2010

Chairman of the National Commission of Human Rights Ifdhal Kasim denounced Tuesday the Attorney General’s Office’s right to ban books as unconstitutional.

According to him, 1963 Law on Monitoring Printed Materials with Content that Could Endanger Public Order and the 2004 AGO Law, which grant the judicial body the right to supervise and ban books, both contradict the 1945 Constitution.

Ifdhal cited Article 28 of the Constitution (Second Amendment), which grants freedom for all citizens to “express their thoughts through verbal and written media”.

“Article 28 E, point 3, stipulates that every citizen has the freedom to express opinions,” he told a national seminar held by the Media Regulation and Regulator Watch at Wisma Antara in Jakarta.

The seminar was held to coincide with the official launch of the Media Regulation and Regulator Watch led by press freedom activist Amir Effendi Siregar.

Ifdhal suggested that if the AGO was concerned that a book was a threat to public order, it should take the matter to court and let judges decide through a transparent trial process. He added that the AGO could not ban books arbitrarily.

“The prosecutors should prove to the public that the book has violated the law. The author and the publisher also have rights to defend the book,” he said.

Between 2006 and 2009, the AGO banned 22 books, including Lekra Tak Pernah Membakar Buku: Suara Senyap Lembar Kebudayaan Harian Rakjat 1950-1965 (Lekra Never Burned Books) by Muhidin M. Dahlan and Rhoma Dwi Aria Yuliantri; Dalih Pembunuhan Massal Gerakan 30 September dan Kudeta Soeharto (Pretext of Mass Murder: The Sept. 30 Movement and the Soeharto Coup d’etat) by John Roosa; and Suara Gereja bagi Umat Tertindas: Penderitaan Tetesan Darah dan Air Mata Umat Tuhan di Papua Barat Harus Diakhiri (The Voices of Churches for Suppressed People: Blood and God’s Tears in West Papua must be Ended) by Cocrateze Sofyan Yoman.

The authors of some of the banned books filed a judicial review request with the Constitutional Court in early March this year. They demanded the Court cancel the laws granting AGO the right to ban books.
A senior journalist, Atmakusumah Astraatmadja, said he believed that books were less dangerous than hastily prepared press releases.

Press releases, he continued, were made within a limited time frame often with a lack of research, while books usually contained comprehensive materials based on years of research which could facilitate better understanding for readers.

The AGO, he argued, could not censor books or the press. “Like the press, authors can be sued in courts, but the AGO has no right to ban their books,” he said.

Another expert witness and a member of the Presidential Advisory Council, Adnan Buyung Nasution, said the 1963 law was a product of the past and needed to be revoked.

“Activists have expressed their anger at the [1963] law because it contradicts the people’s conscience,” he told the hearing. (rdf)