Suharto-era law banning 'offensive' books is lifted

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The Independent Online

A landmark decision striking down an Indonesian book-banning law which has been used since the days of ex-dictator Suharto to clampdown on dissent was welcomed yesterday by human rights activists.

For more than four decades, the attorney general's office could unilaterally prohibit publication or distribution of books deemed "offensive" or a "threat to public order".

But the Constitutional Court ruled on Wednesday that such power should rest with a judicial court.

"It's great," said historian Hilmar Farid. "It symbolises the end of a period of darkness for all of us. It will allow future generations to learn the truth about everything, from science to history." Suharto stepped down in 1998 after 32 years of dictatorial rule, leading to reforms in the predominantly Muslim nation of 237 million that freed the media, vastly improved human rights and gave citizens the right for the first time to directly pick their leaders.

Last year, a group of authors whose books were banned asked the Constitutional Court to review the 1963 regulation which allowed it. Hundreds of books have been banned since the 1960s, including almost all 34 books and essays by late Indonesian author Pramoedya Ananta Toer, a democracy advocate who spent 14 years in jail during Suharto's reign.