Saturday, November 1, 2008

Indonesia's Pornography Legislation

The much-contested Undang-Undang Tentang Pornografi was passed on 30 October 2008 by Indonesia's parliament on 30 October 2008. The UUTP will become law when signed by the president. So far, I have only been able to locate one internet source that gives the final version of the bill ( I am not sure how reliable the source is - but media reports confirm that it is not quite as invasive on personal behaviour as the original draft. A keterangan
forbids (in a penjelasan) 'main hakim sendiri, tindakan kekerasan, razia (sweeping)' (literally 'playing at being a judge, violent actions, terror threats'; my translation).

However, other things have snuck in including a penjelasan that defines homosexual sex as 'persenggamaan yang menyimpang' or 'deviant sex' (along with sex with corpses and animals, oral sex and anal sex). This could potentially be used to discriminate against homosexuals in general.

Interestingly 'educational institutions' (lembaga pendidikan) are allowed to house so-called pornographic materials but these can only be used in a place or location that is linked to the institution (hanya dapat digunakan di tempat atau di lokasi yang disediakan untuk tujuan lembaga yang dimaksud).

The definition of pornography remains very broad and can be used to limit expression in all the arts.

Controversy rages on the internet. Even Al Jazeera TV has produced a show about it - with lots of clips from a tourist kecak show (

Bali's governor, Made Mangku Pastika, issued a letter rejecting the legislation.
'We cannot implement the law because it isn't compatible with Balinese philosophy and social values,' he wrote. Additional, 'Several foreign governments, including Denmark, the United States, and the Philippines, have also sent official letters of enquiry about the application of the legislation' (

The worry for the world of the arts is not only censorship by the government, but self-censorship out of fear of the extreme penalties (6 months-12 years in jail; 250 million - 6 billion rupiah fines).

During the New Order, when the public expression of matters connected to SARA (suku, agama, ras antargolongan = ethnicity, religion, race, inter-group relations) was forbidden, many dhalang and other artists self-censored. This can be even more stifling than direct censorship by a censorial board. It seems that a decade after the Soeharto's fall that many dhalang remain wary of expressing any political viewpoint, however mild. SARA-related restrictions is one of the reasons perhaps why sexually explicit (or implicit) content became so important in wayang in the 1970s. 'Rusuh' (vulgar) puppets, jokes and the like were seen as a safe outlet, while even the appearance of a puppet representing the banteng (the PDI mascot) was suspicious.

I am afraid that even if the UU anti pornografi aren't actively enforced by agents of the government that they will impact strongly on creative expression through an analogous mechanism of self censorship. And the UU certainly legitimise the peraturan daerah (regional laws) that have already made life so difficult for many in places like Banten. (For a good Australian documentary from 2006, see

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