Attorney General H.M. Prasetyo. (Antara Photo/Reno Esnir)

Massive Crackdown on Communist Books Deemed Unconstitutional


JANUARY 25, 2019

Jakarta. A plan by the Attorney General's Office to launch a massive crackdown on books about communism and other banned ideologies has prompted concerns that this may erode freedom of expression and access to information in Indonesia.

"We might have to conduct raids for books containing things related to the PKI [Communist Party of Indonesia] and we must confiscate those books wherever they may be," Attorney General Prasetyo reportedly said during a meeting at the House of Representatives in Jakarta on Wednesday.

The plan came after several similar actions – which ironically also included material opposed to communism – performed without court orders by the Indonesian Military (TNI) in various parts of the country. 

Prasetyo did not comment on the arbitrary confiscations but said his office was conducting a study to better identify such books.

The Human Rights Working Group and the Legal Aid Institute for the Press (LBH Pers) promptly criticized the suggestion, with the latter labeling such action as unconstitutional.

In a joint statement, the two organizations highlighted that the confiscation and destruction of such material was not based on due process.

"We are demanding that the government cancel plans to conduct raids for books containing leftist ideologies, [because] it violates the rights to freedom of expression and information," the organizations said in the statement received by the Jakarta Globe.

Many books were banned in Indonesia for decades under a 1963 presidential decree, which allowed the government to "secure printed materials with content that could potentially disrupt the public order."

However, the Constitutional Court ruled in 2010 that the decree was unconstitutional and determined that the banning or confiscation of books without legal process was therefore illegal.

But this ruling did not end the banning of books, as highlighted by raids led by the TNI in Kediri, East Java, on Dec. 28, and in Padang, West Sumatra, on Jan. 8, which saw the authorities confiscate dozens of titles deemed to be related to communism, or the now-defunct PKI.

The authorities have instead used the 1966 degree by the Temporary People's Consultative Assembly (TAP MPRS) on the banning of communism in Indonesia to justify their actions, which have been criticized by scholars and civil society organizations.

Though the PKI no longer exists, fear of the movement, its symbols and ideology continues across the archipelago to this day, often kept alive by the government itself.

"Leftist books [help] illustrate a side of Indonesia's history that is not generally discussed by the public, because of its sensitive nature. It doesn't mean that everything contained in those books is propaganda or written with the intention to revive communist ideologies in Indonesia," the Human Rights Working Group and LBH Pers said in the statement.

They added that there was no clear rationale to prohibit communist-related books.

Most Indonesians are afraid of the stigma attached to being linked to the PKI and communism due to a lack of clarity about the reason behind the persecution, arrests and murders of members and sympathizers of the now-defunct political party by the military and ideological opponents between 1965 and 1966.

Until now, due to the sensitivity of the matter, there is no certainty about the exact number of people killed in the massacres that marked the beginning of then-President Suharto's 32-year reign.

An international tribunal in The Hague declared in 2016 that the 1965 mass killings were crimes against humanity, and that it resulted in the deaths of an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 people. It also ruled that the United States, Britain and Australia were involved, according to a CNN report.

In a 2012 report, the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) declared the 1965 mass killings a gross human rights violation and held the military responsible, but there has yet to be a legal inquiry.