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Indonesia: Constitutional Court Strikes Down Book Banning Law

(Oct. 15, 2010) On October 13, 2010, it was reported that the Constitutional Court of Indonesia had ruled that the 1963 Law on Securing Printed Materials Whose Content Could Disrupt Public Order, which allowed the Attorney-General's Office (AGO) to ban books, is unconstitutional and therefore “no longer legally binding.” (Camelia Pasandaran, Indonesian Government Stripped of Power to Ban Books, JAKARTA GLOBE (Oct. 13, 2010),
.) The judges considered that “[t]he sole authority of the Attorney General to ban the distribution of printed materials without due process of law is a characteristic of an authoritarian state and not a law-based state like Indonesia.” (Arghea Desafti Hapsari, Court Ruling Ends Govt's Authority to Ban Books, THE JAKARTA POST (Oct. 14, 2010),

However, the Court rejected the argument that a 2004 law giving the AGO the authority to “monitor” printed material was also unconstitutional. (Camelia Pasandaran, Heru Andriyanto & Ismira Lutfia, Indonesian Attorney General Loses Power to Ban Books, JAKARTA GLOBE (Oct. 14, 2010),
.) Furthermore, the ruling still provides an avenue for banning printed material that is considered dangerous or controversial, with the power resting with the courts rather than officials at the AGO. One of the judges stated that, “[i]f an action is categorized as being against the law, the process should be through the courts. Therefore, [authority to] ban goods such as printed materials considered liable to disrupt public order cannot be given to an institution without a court ruling.” (Id.)

The AGO has banned 22 books since 2006, including books about an alleged communist coup attempt in 1965, unrest in the province of Papua, and several high school text books. (Banning Looms as Draconian Officials Remain, THE JAKARTA POST (Jan. 10, 2010),
.) Earlier this year it was reported that the AGO was reviewing 200 books for messages that could possibly disturb public order, which means “any conduct that contradicts the Constitution, laws or general norms in society that may cause disturbances to the ideology, politics, economy, society and culture, as well as security and defense.” (Id.)

The judicial review action was brought by a media watchdog organization and several authors and publishers. (Indonesian Government Stripped of Power to Ban Books, supra; see also Camelia Pasandaran, Court Hears Author's Legal Case Against Book Bans, JAKARTA GLOBE (Mar. 9, 2010),
.)A government representative was reported as welcoming the Court's ruling, as it would not entirely prevent books from being banned. He stated that authors of printed material that is considered dangerous “can be reported [to the police] according to the Criminal Code or could be sued through the administrative court.” (Indonesian Attorney General Loses Power to Ban Books, supra.) The plaintiffs and others considered the ruling to be a “landmark” decision, although one pointed out that other laws could still be used to ban books, including the Criminal Code, the 2008 Anti-Pornography Law, and the 1965 Blasphemy Law. (Id.)