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The imprisonment of journalist Bersihar Lubis shows how colonial-era laws are being used to stifle historical debate in Indonesia, writes David Jardine
Alarm bells have been ringing among Indonesian media after a late February verdict against Bersihar Lubis, a columnist with the leading Indonesian-language daily Koran Tempo.
Lubis was sentenced to one month in prison for “insulting” state prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office (AGO). In an article he wrote in March last year, he condemned the burning of school history textbooks that offered a different interpretation of the traumatic events of 1965-1966 to the official version first put out by the late ex-President Suharto’s military-based New Order regime.
Lubis described the book-burning state prosecutors as “stupid”. Charges were brought against him under Article 207 of the Indonesian Criminal Code (KHUP). This article, which is derives from the Dutch colonial era Haatzai Artikelen (literally “hate articles”), makes it an offence to “insult in public, either verbally or in writing, a public official or public agency”.
Calls for Indonesian journalists to rein themselves in are a reminder of the bad old days of Suharto, writes David Jardine
President Yudhoyono of Indonesia last week called on the national media to practice more self-censorship. Using an open-air public meeting in the central Java capital Semarang, Yudhoyono called for “more responsible and useful” reporting.
Admitting that the current wider freedoms enjoyed by the press and electronic media were won after many years of struggle under the recently deceased Suharto’s authoritarian New Order regime, the president nonetheless espoused the ambivalence felt amongst the political class toward the boisterous Indonesian press.