Indonesia’s overly restrictive Music Bill must be withdrawn


Still from Street Punk! Banda Aceh, a documentary about Indonesia's punk scene and the difficulties it faces from religious fundamentalism

Still from Street Punk! Banda Aceh, a documentary about Indonesia’s punk scene and the difficulties it faces from religious fundamentalism.

Index on Censorship is deeply concerned that a draft bill in Indonesia would limit musicians’ freedom of expression.

The Music Bill seeks to ban content deemed blasphemous or pornographic, as well as preventing creators including any content driven by “negative” foreign influences.

“This is the latest in a number of attempts globally to force artists to produce only government-sanctioned work,” said Index on Censorship chief executive Jodie Ginsberg. “We fully support Indonesia’s artistic community in opposing the bill and ask the government to drop plans to censor music in the country.”

Indonesian artists immediately formed the National Coalition Against the Music-Making Bill and drew support from the country’s music community, creative professions and the national media.

In a statement, the coalition pointed out that articles within the bill lack clear parameters, marginalise and silence independent musicians, and sanction bias against many musicians. There is also little clarity about what exactly is being regulated and by whom.  

Many elements of the bill also overlap with Indonesian laws such as the Copyright Act, the Handover Act of Print and Record Works, and the ITE Law. The bill also goes against the Law on Promoting Culture and goes against Article 28 of the 1945 Constitution, which upholds freedom of expression in a democratic country. The coalition has also initiated a public petition which has close to 300,000 signatures.

Indonesia’s draft legislation follows the introduction of Decree 349 by Cuba, which forces artists to register with the government, and the Uganda’s government is proposing regulations that envision vetting new songs, videos and film scripts prior to their release, and official registration for creatives. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1551266187660-c2bd3852-2b0f-2″ taxonomies=”15469″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

#IndexAwards2016: Indonesian Sakdiyah Ma’ruf carves a name for herself in comedy

From a conservative Muslim community where expectations stretched only to marriage and children, Sakdiyah Ma’ruf has carved a name for herself in comedy, with powerful routines that challenge Islamic fundamentalism and advocate for women’s rights. Index on Censorship spoke to her about jumping over fences, Robin Williams and the censorship she has faced as the first female stand-up comedian in Indonesia.

Ma’ruf places a high expectation on her work and the role of comedy and comedians to call out social injustice. “Comedians, more than other people, should know the danger of comedy, and its potential for harassing people. But they should also fully understand its power to speak for the weak and fight against the powerful and the complacent,” she told Index.

“Comedy allows us to participate in celebration of laughter and celebration of humanity,” she says. “We laugh with you and invite you to participate in resistance, in examining injustices, in looking at ourselves and our society.”

But carving a career as a female comedian in a Muslim country has not always been easy. “Women in general, in many different cultures and traditions across the world, are born with a set of expectations attached to them,” she says. “In Indonesian popular culture, we do not have Muslim comedian wearing hijab taking the centre stage of entertainment industry…most female comedians are placed as the punch line of the act both for their attractiveness and unattractiveness, instead of being given a place to stand up.”

But the difficulties she faced becoming a comedian have in a way contributed to her success, she says. Born to a conservative Muslim family, a strict curfew meant she spent most of her childhood absorbing American TV, taking influences from musicians Lisa Loeb, Sarah Mc Lachlan, Jewel and Sheryl Crow. “They taught me to stand taller,” she says. “I guess this is one of the best things about being prevented to go out of the house after school.”

“I learned that there are hopes and that people out there are living different path of life and most importantly that women can resist!”

At college Ma’ruf became politically active. Rallying against New Order government during the earliest year of democracy in Indonesia in 1999, and participating in voicing a more moderate and tolerant Islam through student organisations – her efforts to keep her activities a secret from her family and father became more difficult.

This political activism informed her comedy, she says, but just not in the way you would expect. Keeping her involvement secret often involved jumping over the fences into her boarding house (because she almost always violated her curfew), and doing impersonations to convince her father she was actually at home with her friends – real life skits that found their way into her routine.

Sakdiyah Ma'ruf

She entered a comedy competition when she was young, but had never seen comedy as having a place in her life, she says. “Contrary to my male colleagues in the industry, I do not ambitiously plan my career in comedy. In fact, dream and passion are a luxury to me.”

“I grew up in a quite conservative Yemeni-Arab descent community in small town on the northern coast of Java, Indonesia where there are basically two stories about the women, the bad story where you drop out of school and marry a rich man from the community or the occasional good one where you finish school and marry a rich man from the community.”

“And then the great Robin Williams entered my life.”

“Watching Robin Williams Live on Broadway stand up special in 2009, I felt like my whole life was flashing before my eyes; the US sitcoms, the comedy competition, the hardship, the impersonation, the struggle at the front row of democracy during college, I knew that I have been in love with this art from way back before I even learned the name of the art. Everything started to make more sense to me.”

In 2011 she became one of the finalists of Stand up Comedy Indonesia, run by Indonesian station Kompas TV, and later collaborated with The Moral Courage Project, telling the stories of people who are fighting corruption in their faith, culture or workplace.

But aside from facing stigmatism as a Muslim female comedian, Ma’ruf has faced censorship on the grounds of her jokes’ content.

“I was working with the Moral Courage team from New York University on a video profile. The editor asked me to send video clips from my performance. I immediately contacted Kompas TV for a clip on my joke about a radical group, taped when I opened for my friend’s stand-up comedy special, to be included in the video.”

“One of the staff there sent the video but not long after, the executive producer emailed me and strictly prohibited me to use it, because it is too sensitive for them and because they did not want to be associated with such a joke. They didn’t air it on TV.”

She cancelled the inclusion of all her televised performances in the Moral Courage video, sharing her off-air performances instead. This also marked her move towards live performances, seeing them as allowing her to share her voice with the audience.

Now an established comedian in Indonesia, Ma’ruf last year won the Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent and performed at the Asia’s Women Empowerment Forum – at the same time as earning a Masters degree with thesis on Comedy Jihad.

“My trip to Oslo to receive the Havel Prize last year was not an easy one,” she admits. “It took me more than three months just to craft the right sentences to ask permission from my dad.”

But the trip was worth it, she says. “As I stood there on stage receiving the honour, I was fully aware that I was not here speaking for myself, but for other Muslim women experiencing the same or even more difficult struggles than me, for my years of jumping over the fence of my boarding house, for everyone who is having difficulty of speaking the truth to power including the power of their ego.”

For now she plans to continue to use her voice to speak for those women, and for all others who can’t. “The world is growing increasingly divided, and the voice of women in comedy will provide the bridge between the divide, by presenting different perspectives sourced from genuine experiences of women.”

Indonesia suspected of hacking to silence abuse allegations

(Photo illustration: Shutterstock)

(Photo illustration: Shutterstock)

Human rights organisations suspect a live YouTube broadcast detailing abuses by the Indonesian government may have been the real reason behind “technical difficulties” at an environmental conference in Oregon.

Two Papua tribesmen had travelled to Oregon specially for the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference in Oregon, “the world’s most important environmental law conference.”

A live broadcast of the conference mysteriously went silent when the tribesmen started telling the audience about human rights violations by the Indonesia government, perpetrated in their homeland

The pictures on the slideshow, illustrating their points, were behind them and still visible, although their commentary was not audible to anyone listening from home.

Survivor International, who also sent a delegate to the conference, told Index on Censorship that they suspect the attack was a hack, and that their organisation has been targeted by Indonesian agents in the past.

“In 2010, our website was taken offline,” said Sophie Grig, South East Asia Researcher. “We had posted a video of Indonesian soldiers torturing Papuan trible people. Other groups who also posted the video were hacked.”

The attack lasted for two days, during which all websites who had posted the video were bombarded by thousands of requests from thousands of computers worldwide, and the German police began an investigation after one of the hacked groups, based in Germany, made a complaint.

At the time, Survival’s Director Stephen Corry commented ‘This isn’t a couple of geeks in a shed, it’s an expensive and sophisticated attack amounting to cyberterrorism. The damage to Survival International may be substantial but is of course nothing compared to that inflicted on West Papuan tribes.

He added “This is a struggle for the survival of the one million oppressed tribespeople in Indonesian West Papua.”

The two Papuans who attended the conference in Oregon, are members of the Amungme tribe, whose land is home to Grasberg, a mining facility operated by 19,500 employees.

“In the area around the mine, we’ve seen forced displacements, reports of torture and illegal detention by the Indonesian military” said Grig. “We also have strong concerns about the environmental impact.”

Positioned on Papua’s highest mountain, Grasberg is home to the largest gold mine in the world, as well as the third largest copper mine in the world. It produces around

Local charities, as well as international environmental charities, are concerned about the increasing number of land slides and acidifying waste products in local water sources, although the mines operators, Freeport and Rio Tinto, insist their operations fit within international regulations.

Indonesia has occupied Papua (the western half of the island of New Guinea) since 1963, and more than 100,000 Papuans are believed to have been killed since then, many at the hands of the Indonesian military. The government hold a 10% stake in one of the companies operating the mine.

Although it is unclear which software was used to execute this hack, according to Amnesty International in Indonesia, the Papuan military have already purchased invasive internet monitoring technology from Gamma International, a UK-based company. Gamma International manufacture FinnFisher, software which is capable of monitoring all internet communications in a country. The software has been used by repressive regimes including Bahrain, UAE, Turkmenistan, Egypt (under Mubarak, although it is unclear whether the software is still in use).

Andreas Harsono, Indonesia Researcher for Amnesty International, also told Index about some of the human rights abuses he regularly observes in Papua

“I mainly deal with cases where freedom of expression is being denied, as well as impunity amongst the military, police and prison wardens,” he said, “There are also extra judicial killings,” he adds.

There are believed to be over seventy political prisoners held in brutal Indonesian prisons – some serving up to twenty years.

Sophie Grig from Survivor International warned Index

“West Papuans are no strangers to having their voices silenced. Journalists are effectively banned from the region, other than in exceptional circumstances and where they are accompanied by Indonesian government minders. People are imprisoned when their only crime is to raise the banned West Papuan flag, or to speak out against military atrocities and the Indonesian rule of  West Papua.”

This article was published on 19 March 2014 at

Australia’s “Auntie” pummelled over Indonesia coverage

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott has accused the Australian Broadcasting Corporation of being unAustralian.

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott has accused the Australian Broadcasting Corporation of being unAustralian.

In a dust up over the reporting of spying revelations, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation has been called unAustralian by prime minister Tony Abbott, who has also called for a review of its funding.

The ABC, known affectionately as “Auntie”, has long been accused of left-wing bias by both conservative media and politicians and the prime minister is just the latest, saying in late January, “a lot of people feel at the moment that the ABC instinctively takes everyone’s side but Australia’s. I think it is a problem.”

The problems Abbott was referring to were revelations broadcast by ABC, prompted by documents released by former US National Security Agency contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden, that Australia’s government had tapped the phones of the Indonesian prime minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his wife in 2009. Snowden was described by Abbott as a “traitor” and said the broadcaster was delighting in “advertising” what he had to say. Abbott accused the broadcaster of attacking the nation.

Though the phone tapping took place during the tenure of the previous Labor government, Abbott’s administration has been vocal that the reporting has badly damaged relations with Indonesia. At the same time, Abbott’s government has been turning back boats into Indonesian waters with no prior warning. This follows  an ABC report that Australian navy personnel had abused asylum seekers in their care by forcing them to hold onto hot pipes that burned their hands. The allegations came from members of the Indonesian navy, but were not fully verified by ABC reporters.

An investigation by Media Watch, an ABC watchdog programme detailed varied journalistic abuses or stretches of the truth and found its own network had “overreached” on the allegations of abuse. The programme said the story should have been more adequately researched.

Tony Abbott later said he wanted the national broadcaster to apologise but would “leave it up to them”.

“My concern as a citizen of our country is to try to ensure our national broadcaster is accurate, is fair,” he continued.

Others in his party, such as communications minister Malcolm Turnbull, have not been so direct, noting the importance of freedom of press and a lack of self-censorship

The ABC, in a poll conducted by Essential Research found the taxpayer-funded broadcaster, is considered the country’s second most trusted institution after the Supreme Court. Further research conducted by the ABC found that 85 percent of people believe the broadcaster provides a valuable service.

None of this stops repeated claims of bias against the broadcaster, usually by conservative politicians and journalists. The supposed bias shown last election against Labor by News Limited papers has not been subjected to the same attacks by the Coalition. Other conservative commentators have noted the former government’s own attempts at censorship of the press.

This has come at the same as an”efficiency study” of the ABC and the Special Broadcasting Service, which also receives government funding, has been announced. Beginning this month, it will announce its findings in April and there is much speculation budgets will be cut. There has even been talk of privatising or scrapping the broadcaster, though communications minister Malcolm Turnbull has been keen to distance himself from the ideas.

This article was originally published on 7 February 2014 at