Editorial: Court Speaks, and The Word is Good
The Constitutional Court’s ruling on Wednesday against the Attorney General’s authority to ban books and other printed material is a triumph for Indonesian society and intellectual freedom.
In ruling that the 1963 law on Securing Printed Material was no longer legally binding, Mahfud MD, the chief of the Constitutional Court, has delivered a verdict that will allow ideas and freedom of expression to flourish.
Books are the foundation of intellectual rigor and debate. Banning books from being printed or distributed is archaic and detrimental to the development of society.
In one giant step, the Constitutional Court has propelled the nation and the country into the 21st century.
Indonesia needs to have a vibrant debate of ideas if we are to progress as a society.
Intellectual freedom is a basic human right but more importantly it nourishes our minds as well as our souls.
It is also protected by the Constitution.
Books are critical to promoting creativity and critical thinking, two of the ingredients that will allow the country to meet the challenges ahead.
Indonesia needs bright, intelligent and highly innovative thinkers to be tomorrow’s leaders and we will not have such leaders if we restrict intellectual freedom in this country.
As the author Darmawan, whose book was one of those banned, so eloquently put it, the ruling is a historic turning point.
“Starting from now, if someone disagrees to something written, then write back. Books should be argued through books,” he said.
“It is a setback for civilization if we use muscle to fight opinion.”
The ruling, however, is not a total victory for freedom of thought in this country.
The AGO can still secure a ban or confiscate books but it will have to apply to the court for a ruling in its favor.
It will, however, have to back up its request with a solid case as to why a particular book is a threat to public order.
Indonesia still has laws that allow the state to restrict freedom of speech, such as the Anti-Pornography Law and the 1965 Blasphemy Law.
Some of these laws may have a place in our legal system as individuals must have recourse if they are libeled or attacked in print.
There is still a long way to go for Indonesian civil society to accept the power that intellectual freedom adds to public discourse.
The temptation to resort to violence as a means of responding to criticism or disagreement still runs strong.
That should not discourage us from continuing to push the boundaries and fight for greater freedoms.
The democratic reforms unleashed a decade ago have transformed Indonesian society and a healthy debate on where the country should go from here is very much welcome.
That debate can be conducted through more books on issues that are central to our well-being as a nation.