Indonesia’s overly restrictive Music Bill must be withdrawn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]

Comedy and self-censorship: Shazia Mirza interviews Sakdiyah Ma’ruf

Indonesian comedian Sakdiyah Ma’ruf, a nominee for the 2016 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award for arts, was born to conservative Muslim family in Java and went on to become one of very few female stand-up comedians in the country to appear on national TV.

British comedian Shazia Mirza, the host of this year’s awards, talks to her about tackling no-go subjects, trying to win family approval, and how the stand-up scene is growing for women in Indonesia.

Comedy: Shazia Mirza interviews Sakdiyah Ma'ruf

Sakdiyah Ma’ruf (left) and Shazia Mirza (right)

SHAZIA: Have your parents come to watch you do stand-up?

SAKDIYAH: My parents came to one of my shows once. It was in 2012 in one of the biggest theatres in Jakarta. I invited them to the show because it was held in a “dignified” building. I wanted to help my parents, and especially my dad, see that I was doing a “dignified” job.

I was very nervous. It was a full house. But I didn’t care whether the audience liked me or not, as long as I could get at least silent approval from my dad.

Since the show, my dad has supported me in my career as a comedian – not fully perhaps – but from this moment on, he knew that stand-up was something I did and would continue to do ­– in addition to the other “real jobs” I have.

I remember my parents saying they were pretty nervous about how the audience would respond to me. Perhaps my dad thought he could accept what I was doing if I gained approval from at least half of the audience.

The truth is that it isn’t always easy to get out of the house to perform. In June 2015 I was invited to open for a good friend of mine who is one of the biggest stand-up comics in Indonesia. He called me in April for the gig and it took me almost a month just to craft the right sentence to ask for my dad’s permission to perform.



SHAZIA: Do you say exactly what you want to? Or do you think: “No I can’t say that, people might get upset”

SAKDIYAH: The truth is that I rarely say exactly what I want to. I mean, can you imagine expressing all those voices in your head to the audience?

I say what I believe in; what I have experienced; what I am concerned about; what I like; what I don’t like; what I’m angry about… For me, comedy is always about telling the truth. You can’t be genuinely funny without being completely honest with yourself and your audience.

But I do self-censor, I self-censor all the time! I’m not afraid to talk about taboo topics like religion, race relation, a bit of sex etc – but only if it helps me to be honest with myself and my audience to be honest with themselves. I make sure I craft my jokes on these topics in a way that is truly funny; otherwise I’ll just sound like another girl complaining about how unfair life is.

I also make sure I’m being fair. I fact-check before I talk about something, so that I don’t just make things worse.


SHAZIA: Are you the only woman in Indonesia doing stand-up?

SAKDIYAH: No, of course not. I was the first, but the number is now growing. Every year there are new female stand-up comics performing on TV or participating in competitions.


SHAZIA: Do you feel pressure to talk about “heavy” subjects, like Islamophobia and terrorism, in your comedy? Or do you prefer to talk about lighter things sometimes – like shopping, dating, going on holidays.

SAKDIYAH: I want to talk about the issues that matter to me, things I can relate to, things that are part of who I am and what I have experienced.

I love talking about Muslims and the way they practice and interpret their religion. I talk about Islamophobia, violence towards women, the idea and construction of femininity and masculinity, my ethnicity.

Yeah, sometimes I feel such pressure to talk about “heavy” topics, but for what it’s worth, I think there is no such thing as a “light” topic in comedy. With a great comedian, even jokes about a refrigerator can bring new insights on humanity.

And I guess this is what is so beautiful about comedy: it helps us get to know who we are who others are as well. Every individual has multiple identities. I have been perceived as this Muslim girl fighting against fundamentalism through her comedy. While this is true, I do not want to just be seen as some kind of a “comedy jihadist” fighting against fundamentalists. I have layers to my identity, just like everybody else.


SHAZIA: Do you receive letters and emails from people who have seen your performances? What kind of things do they say? What do women say?

SAKDIYAH: Yes, I do. A woman once asked me whether I am a “true” Muslim. Perhaps she considered my jokes too daring or inappropriate for a Muslim woman to tell. She asked me all these questions about whether I really wear the hijab every day and whether I pray five times a day.

I like getting these kinds of responses. I feel like these people genuinely care about me or at least about Muslim women in general.



#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.”

Underground music around the world playlist

Acrassicauda concert at The Roxy in Hollywood, 10 June 2010. Credit: Flickr / Bruce Martin

Underground music scenes have begun sprouting up in many countries around the world in the last few years, where previously no such thing existed. These movements have managed, in many cases, to continue despite a continuing trend of censorship in the arts and government repression. Whether it be punks in Indonesia rebelling against Sharia law or hip-hop artists in Mumbai rapping about independence from Britain, people all over the world are fighting for their right to artistic freedom. Here are a few cities around the world where musicians refused to be silenced.

Karachi, Pakistan

Even after social activist and creator of The Second Floor, a cafe that promotes discussion, performance and art, Sabeen Mahmud was murdered by armed motorcyclists in Karachi in April 2015, the experimental and electronic music culture has continued to grow. Refusing to be intimidated into silence, artists like Sheryal Hyatt, who records as Dalt Wisney and founded Pakistan’s first DIY netlabel, Mooshy Moo, and the producing pair of Bilal Nasir Khan and Haamid Rahim, who created the electronic label and collective Forever South, are challenging conventional ideas about the music culture in Karachi.

Aceh, Indonesia

Punk music is one of the ultimate forms of expressing disdain for a system of oppression, so it comes as no surprise that so many youths in Indonesia have embraced the genre with a passion. The punk scene, which grew exponentially following the 2004 tsunami when a great many lost family members and help from the government was less than forthcoming. The hostility and discrimination against the punk subculture came to a head in 2012 when police rounded up 64 youths at a concert, arrested them and took them to a nearby detention centre to have their mohawk hairstyles forcibly shaved. Despite this, bands like Cryptical Death continue to promote their scene and pen songs about resisting repressive government figures.

Yangon, Burma

The vitality of punk music is also present in Burma, where musicians have been advocating for human rights through fast-paced music since around 2007. No U Turn and the Rebel Riot are popular punk groups that routinely rail against a government that they feel is repressive and unjust. No U Turn sounds like a resurrection of Bad Religion-meets-Naked Raygun with a blend of biting lyrics and punishing speed.

Mumbai, India

Indian hip-hop pioneers have been appearing more and more in the last 10 years, with Abhishek Dhusia, aka ACE, forming Mumbai’s Finest, the city’s first rap crew, and Swadesi, another local group whose work they think represents feelings and ideals of many young people in the city. Swadesi, in particular, advocates for social justice within their band’s mission, with working for NGOs and organising events being an important element of their group.

Baghdad, Iraq

Musicians in Iraq have faced a variety of oppressive control, ranging from young people being stoned to death by Shi’ite militants for wearing western-style “emo” clothes and haircuts to Acrassicauda, a popular heavy-metal band from Baghdad, receiving death threats from Islamic militants. Acrassicauda had to flee the country a few years after the USA invaded Iraq, going first to Syria and then to the USA, where they were given refugee status and from where they now continue to make music. They have hopes of touring the Middle East soon but have no idea when they will be able to return to Iraq.

Index on Censorship has teamed up with the producers of an award-winning documentary about Mali’s musicians, They Will Have To Kill Us First,  to create the Music in Exile Fund to support musicians facing censorship globally. You can donate here, or give £10 by texting “BAND61 £10” to 70070.