<b>Jakarta.</b> Journalists have criticized Thursday’s “vague” court ruling that upheld the government’s ban on the controversial film “Balibo” as an indication of the government’s unwillingness to confront its “dark past.”
“Banning the film is a symbol of the government’s unwillingness to be honest about its dark past and its failure to commit to a transparent legal process for human rights violators,” Wahyu Dhyatmika, chairman of the Jakarta chapter of the Alliance of Independent Journalist (AJI), told the Jakarta Globe.
He said his group would appeal the decision, which he described as a setback for the freedom of expression that has been one of the main hallmarks of the country’s reform movement that arose following the resignation of former President Suharto.
In early December 2009, the Film Censorship Board (LSF) banned the film, which tells the story of five journalists killed when Indonesian troops took over the East Timorese border town of Balibo in October 1975.
A sixth journalist died weeks later when Indonesian forces invaded the capital, Dili.
Indonesia has always maintained that the “Balibo Five” died in a cross-fire as Indonesian troops fought East Timorese Fretilin rebels.
The movie had been scheduled to screen at the Jakarta International Film Festival (JiFFest) in December.
Sholeh Ali, a lawyer for the Legal Aid Institute for the Press (LBH Pers), which represented AJI Jakarta during the proceedings at the State Administrative Court, said the court decision was “vague.”
“The judges referred to the wrong provisions and they applied them to this case ambiguously,” Sholeh said.
A censorship board official, RM Tedjo Baskoro, told the Globe that the film “did not cover both sides by failing to include information from the Indonesian side.”
If the film were screened, he said, it would reopen “old wounds” between Indonesia, Australia and East Timor.
But Hendrayana, executive director of LBH Pers, said that the film “has been screened publicly in five cities and has not resulted in any problems.”
This, he said, completely undermined the censorship body’s claim that the film would damage ties between the three countries if it were screened.
Tedjo Baskoro also claimed that the court complaint seeking to have the ban overturned did not have the proper legal standing because AJI Jakarta was not directly affected by the body’s decision to ban the movie.
He said the only party directly affected by the ban was JiFFest organizer Masyarakat Mandiri Film Indonesia.
Sholeh, however, said the judges had acknowledged the plaintiff’s interest in the case through its concern the ban was detrimental to press freedom, democracy and free speech.
Wahyu said he was not surprised by Thursday’s decision based on what he described as the court’s apparent disinterest in the testimony of Shirley Shackleton, the widow of one of the journalists killed in Dili.
Shackleton told the court she was convinced her husband was shot after surrendering to Indonesian soldiers.
“This is a setback for freedom of the press and free speech in Indonesia,” Wahyu said.
In addition to Shackleton, the LBH Pers team presented Leo Batubara, a former deputy chairman of the Press Council and a free speech advocate, and Ratna Sarumpaet, an activist and filmmaker, as witnesses.