Thursday, February 23, 2006

Balinese Makes A Stand Against Controversial Law

Balinese Makes A Stand Against Controversial Law

I Wayan Juniartha

The Jakarta Post

Denpasar, Bali

It wasn’t the kind of crowd that usually frequented the Classic Café, a chic establishment on the first floor of Kuta’s gigantic Discovery Mall. The café was known as the hub of choice for local yuppies looking for refreshing spirits and lively chats on antiquated vehicles from the time long gone.

On that excruciatingly humid Sunday afternoon, however, the café’s small elevated stage, was populated by three individuals. Their solemn faces were in stark contrast with the images of shining red vintage American-made car on the wall behind them.

The first person was I Gusti Ngurah Harta, the founder and leader of Sandhi Murti, a Balinese martial art institution with over 25,000 members across the island. Next to him was Prof. Dr. I Made Bandem, one of the island’s most influential scholar and respected dancer. The last person was Cokorda Sawitri, Bali’s leading woman writer and activist.

Before them sat dozens of people, some of them sported daring hairstyles, menacing tattoos and pierced nose. Among the crowd were two key figures of the island’s punk community, Rudolf Dethu and Jerinx of the Superman Is Dead’s fame.

It was a serious gathering and the topic was definitely not about Chevrolet Camaro or Alfa-Romeo Spider.

“We organize this meeting to show our support to Ngurah Harta, Made Bandem and Cok Sawitri in their effort to prevent the ratification of the law that would put a chain on our privacy and our freedom of expression,” Dethu said.

The Controversial Law

The law Dethu referred to was RUU (Rancangan Undang Undang) Antipornografi dan Pornoaksi (APP), a draft of legislation that is currently being deliberated upon by members of the country’s DPR (House of Representatives) in Jakarta.

Initiated and submitted by legislators from Islamic political parties, including the popular Justice and Prosperous Party (PKS), the 34-page draft contained 93 articles aimed at curbing the dissemination of pornographic materials in media outlets and eradicating pornographic actions.

The House was expected to ratify the draft in the next two months.

The draft soon sparked heated debate in various corners of the country, particularly among the local communities that had different cultural values and religious belief than the one adhered by the legislators who supported the draft.

In Bali, the first opposition was voiced by the tourism sector. Several influential figures in the sector, including the chairman of the Bali’s Hotels and Restaurants Association, Tjokorda Ardhana Sukawati, expressed their fear that the RUU APP would cause an irreversible damage to the tourism industry, the island’s economic backbone.

“What will happen if you prohibit, or worse, prosecute the foreigners just because they are sunbathing in public beaches in their bikinis? I think everybody know the answer,” he said.

“The tourists will abandon Bali. After all, nobody want to go on vacation only to end up in prison,” he added.

The RUU APP explicitly prohibited the display of nudity or any other sensual body parts. Those body parts, according to the RUU, included genitals, breasts, buttocks, thigh, hip and navel.

Any person, who fully or partially exposed such organs, would face a prison sentence ranged from two to ten years. The maximum sentence was definitely heavier than the seven year prison term dictated by the Criminal Code (KUHP) for a person who assaulted and killed another person.

Moreover, the offender would also face a hefty fine up to one billion Rupiah (over 10,000 USD), a far too scary consequence for showing the world your beautiful, pierced navel!

Organized Response

The sporadic response evolved into an organized movement when I Gusti Ngurah Harta used Sandhi Murti’s financial resource and social network to organize a gathering of Balinese scholars, religious leaders, legal experts and artists on February 11 to form a unified stance against the RUU APP.

It turned out that the participants held a similar grudge against the RUU APP. The influential columnist, Aridus made a record by presenting the shortest speech on the forum.

“I reject the RUU APP because it is an idiotically ludicrous piece of document, period,” he said.

Meanwhile, Prof. Dr. I Made Bandem gave a powerful tour-de-force on how the broad coverage of the RUU APP would adversely affect the creative realm of the art, including some of the island’s most popular dances.

“For instance, the Joged Bumbung dance, which is known for its sensuous movement, will surely face a grim future,” he said.

Most importantly, Bandem reminded that the monolithic and hegemonic nature of the RUU APP had blatantly ignored one crucial fact; that Indonesia was a multicultural society with different social norms and religious values.

“The people in Jakarta and the people in Bali or Papua have a different concept and interpretation on what could be categorized as sensual or as pornographic,” he stressed.

“A failure to respect and accommodate these different, indigenous concepts and traditions could create a divisional conflict between Jakarta and the supporters of the RUU with the rest of the country,” he warned.

A respected Hindu high priest Ida Pedanda Gede Ketut Sebali Tianyar Arimbawa took Bandem’s argument further, reminding that sexual organs were important parts of the religion’s sacred iconography.

“Lingga and Yoni, the three-dimensional image of phallus and vagina, are the sacred symbol of divine creation and sustenance, fertility and creativity. The full breast of Kali or Durga are the symbolic representation of their motherly compassion in nurturing the universe,” he described.

“Sexual organs and nudity are often the primary characteristic of our sacred objects of worships,” Sebali added.

“Balinese culture and belief had never considered sexual organs, nudity and sensuality as filthy, morally reprehensible and offensive things,” scholar I Ketut Sumarta said.

In this perspective, the RUU APP would not only threaten the island’s creative arts but also endangered its primary belief system.

The gathering produced a comprehensive rejection document that would be presented to the House.

Waves of Support

The forum immediately triggered waves of support from various organizations and individuals in the island. Some of them had even planned a huge mass rally to gather public support.

“The local NGOs, particularly the ones that deal with gender equality and children welfare, had asked me to organize such rally. I think we will do it early on March,” Cok Sawitri said.

Meanwhile, both Dethu and Jerinx disclosed that the punk community would organize a major concert to voice their opposition to the RUU APP.

“If the Balinese stands united I see no reason why we could not block the legislation or staging a civil disobedience movement if the legislators stubbornly ratify it,” Ngurah Harta said.


At 6:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I hope you wouldn't mind to pass this comment. I just want to raise public awareness about the perspective of (maybe most of) Balinese people toward this proposal for the retarded anti-pornography law.

Here's a copy of the article on Jakarta Post:

JiwaMerdeka means Free Spirit. We want to keep Bali free, full of free spirited people, open, and welcoming. The trend in Indonesia makes me sad. If this trend gets worse, I'd prefer that Bali separate itself from Indonesia. But, we've already fallen in love with Indonesia since the beginning of this nation... we're proud of its diversity, of its vast amount resources, of it local geniuses..., it would be hard to say goodbye. But things are changing, for the worse nowadays.... some people are trying to make the whole country "green" and "sandy".

Balinese people in US West Coast are also organizing resistance to this law.


At 6:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Puppeteer wonders if 'wayang' will pass inspection of porn law

National News - February 24, 2006

Ati Nurbaiti, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Shadow puppet master Ki Manteb Sudarsono has joined the ranks of seductive singers and erotic models wondering if they could fall foul of the proposed pornography law.
"I've got a couple of puppets and they don't wear pants," he told a discussion at the House on Thursday. "And they have these things and they move when I maneuver the wayang (shadow puppet)," he added, gesturing to indicate male genitalia.
"Will I get into trouble?"
The frank comments of the famous figure from the traditional arts, dressed in his "uniform" of Javanese attire, drew chuckles at a discussion held by the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P).
But actually ending up behind bars amid a wave of moralistic crusading would be no laughing matter, opponents of the bill say.
The arts are among the exceptions in the bill's wide-ranging prohibitions on displays of sensuality, eroticism and sexuality, so Ki Manteb and his graphic puppets would probably escape arrest if they performed in a "government-sanctioned arts center".
Apart from the arts community's objection to subjective definitions of what constitutes obscenity, feminist groups also expressed fears it would be used to subjugate women.
Support for the bill has mainly come from Islamic groups, who were not present at Thursday's discussion.
The event's main message was that PDI-P, claiming to be considerate of communities likely to affected by the proposed pornography law and emerging protests against it, might try to have the bill scrapped.
It was notable that the communities identified included traditional sources of PDI-P votes but where votes dropped in the 2004 general elections compared to 1999.
"We are taking into account the impact that the future law might have on our nation's diverse ethnic groups, such as those in Bali, Central Java and Papua," party legislator Agung Sasongko said.
"And if resistance increases to the point that the law would cause more harm than good, we may attach an academic draft to the bill" to try to delay its passage, added the deputy of the House special committee for the bill.
A delegation from Bali, the birthplace of the fraternal grandmother of PDI-P leader Megawati Soekarnoputri, said the display of body parts, such as in paintings, statues and dance, was part of their culture.
Myra Diarsi of the National Commission for Women said the bill must clearly target industries involved in producing pornography instead of individuals, who would likely be women.
"Besides, (the definition of) pornography must involve all three criteria: Graphic portrayal, excessively vulgar presentation and subordination and humiliation of women."
Some others also found the bill lacking. A total of 14 community group and non-governmental organizations said the bill did not do enough to protect minors from porn in the media and the Internet; and that adults were equated with children, thus hampering their right to information on reproduction and sexuality.

At 6:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Navel gazing ruled out as Indonesians button up

Date: February 25 2006

By Mark Forbes Herald Correspondent in Jakarta

ROCKING in a pink swing fashioned from the cab of a pedal-driven rickshaw, Agus Suwage felt at peace. He had just installed his Pinkswing Park exhibit at Jakarta's international biennale and was surrounded by massive panels with multiple pictures of a near-naked man and woman frolicking in a utopian park - a world away from thoughts of religious furore, public condemnation and possible imprisonment.
The softly spoken, bespectacled 47-year-old seems an unlikely martyr, his only concession to the battle now enveloping his life is a peaked camouflage hat with a skull and crossbones button pinned to its front.
Within days of November's exhibition launch, Islamic fundamentalists had shoved Suwage to the forefront of their struggle to redefine Indonesia by descending on the biennale, forcing its closure and demanding prosecutions. At first police claimed his work blasphemed the story of Adam and Eve, then last week they told Suwage he faced five years in jail for producing pornography.
The same groups staging violent demonstrations against the West over cartoons of the prophet Muhammad are targeting pornography in their battle to transform Indonesia into a strict Islamic nation. And they are winning: parliament is set to introduce a sweeping anti-pornography law.
Expected to be passed by June, the law imposes a rigid social template; couples who kiss in public will face up to five years' jail, as would anyone flaunting a "sensual body part" - including their navel - and tight clothing will be outlawed.
Most women's groups are horrified, entertainment industries believe it could destroy them and Bali's embattled tourism authorities are alarmed at the prospect of sunbathing tourists being arrested.
Mainstream Islamic organisations are warning of moral decay and backing the bill, while politicians, wary of alienating Indonesia's Muslim majority, are condoning the growing anti-porn movement.
Plans to introduce Playboy's soft porn to the Indonesian market next month have become another focus of rowdy demonstrations, with protesters portraying the magazine as a symbol of the decadent West's attack on Islam. Playboy's publishers are proposing a bizarre compromise, no naked women will be featured - Indonesians, at least, will be able to say they only buy it for the articles.
In Jakarta, police have seized hundreds of thousands of "erotic" magazines - including FHM and Rolling Stone - and DVDs, after an edict from police chief Sutanto to "eradicate pornography".
The Islamic Defenders Front spearheads the anti-porn protests. It took two days to track down its leader, Habib Riziek, this week - he was at police headquarters, seeking information about "his men" arrested for allegedly attacking the US embassy in Jakarta last week. Porn, including artworks such as Suwage's, contributes to moral delinquency, Riziek claims. "We don't care about the technicality of the picture," he says. "What we care is that the picture is publicly exhibited and it is pornography and it would damage morals." Suwage believes his work captured attention because one of the models, Anjasmara, is a popular soapie star. The two models, photographer Davy Linggar and the curator of the biennale, Jim Supangkat, are also facing criminal charges.
Suwage is increasingly bitter about Supangkat's reaction to the protest. After hundreds of demonstrators arrived at the exhibition, a panicked Supangkat ordered the offending panels to be covered with white cloth. Other artists draped their own works in solidarity and Supangkat closed the biennale, permanently.
Suwage believes his prosecution is linked to pressure to pass the anti-porn law and the desire of fundamentalists to impose Islamic rule on Indonesia. Suwage, who is afraid of prison, says he is determined to fight.
Based at a small cafe gallery in Jakarta's backpacker precinct, Suwage and a motley collective or artists are mobilising against the new law. "From this case, we make a manifesto for art against the pornography bill. It's very dangerous for freedom of expression but it also threatens other aspects of society." Riziek remains emphatic the bill is essential to "guard the nation's morality" against pornography, which extends past explicit photographs to "anything that could arouse sexual desire".
Balkan Kaplale heads the parliamentary committee finalising the pornography bill and is confident it will become law this year.
It would halt the publication of magazines such as Playboy, he says. " Playboy would place a time bomb in Indonesia, what guarantee is there it would not arrive in the hands of our children? Playboy is American magazine. Please, don't play this game with Indonesians, we have dignity."
Indonesians also have sensuality, says leading feminist and university professor Gadis Arriva. "Women here have always dressed sexily and in tight clothes, this law is something very alien to us, we have barebreasted women in Bali and Papua, this is part of our culture."
In Bali, the head of the government's tourism authority, Gede Nurjaya, agrees. Traditional Balinese art and dance could become illegal, he believes. He is concerned prohibitions against kissing and revealing bodies could be imposed against foreigners, destroying Bali's faltering tourism industry.
Arriva says most women's groups oppose the bill. "Most of it restricts women, what they wear, how they act. It even creates a board that would go around monitoring women's behaviour."
The new law would also gag a flourishing emergence of young female writers, who write openly about sexuality. "It states it is illegal to express any sexual desire, even imagine sex - how do you prove that?" asks Arriva.
She sees the anti-porn movement as part of an agenda to reshape Indonesia, with pornography a symbol of Western culture to the many Muslims who believe globalisation aims to destroy their culture. Adrian Vickers, Professor of Asian Studies at the University of Wollongong, agrees the debate is "part of whipping up a moral panic about Western decadence eroding Indonesian culture and morality", with the potential to push Indonesia towards an Islamic state. "Given anxieties about terrorism, a more Islamic Indonesia could see Australia very much as the enemy," he warns.
A closed society looms, says Suwage. "There would be no freedom, it will have a big impact for us, for artists, but it will go everywhere. I don't believe a picture can change a person's morality. Morality starts from the individual, from inside, not from dogma."
with Karuni Rompies

At 9:04 PM, Blogger Ni Made said...

Veils for Rent!
As a young Balinese woman I want to express my deep concern about the so-called “Pornography Bill”, which – if ever passed – would jeopardize Bali’s main income source, namely tourism!
All over Indonesia (real) pornography (video blue) is sold under the table, but Jakarta’s hypocrite legislators are going to criminalize tourists showing their hips, navel or thighs. Up to ten (!) years imprisonment and fines up to Rp 1 billion will certainly attract millions of tourists to visit Indonesia (not only Bali) as an “open society”.
Suggestion for those who are responsible for this “idiotically ludicrous document” (quotation columnist Aridus): On every airport, next to the Visa on Arrival Desk set up a counter where tourists can rent veils and ankle-long swimming suits.
Next elections are coming for sure. Balinese will not vote for parties who support this ridiculous law!

At 9:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

INDONESIA: Activists employ Internet to fight pornography bill
Bali delgation will use Internet campaign to combat pornography bill now in deliberation

Jakarta Post
Thursday, March 2, 2006

Balinese activists launched recently a public Internet campaign to express their opposition to the controversial "pornography" bill being deliberated at the House of Representatives (DPR).

"The Internet is a powerful communication medium. It is fast, cheap and widely accessible, particularly for the island's middle class, the very target of this virtual campaign," I Made Marlowe said.

Marlowe was one of the eight-member Bali delegation that flew to Jakarta on Feb. 21 to express their opposition to the members of the DPR's Special Committee on the Anti-Pornography Bill. The overbearing attitude displayed by the Committee's members during the hearing convinced the delegation that the opposition to the bill needed to be stronger and louder to arouse public support.

"It seemed that the committee members had already made up their minds that regardless of the opposition from various corners of the country, they would continue processing the bill into a law," the chief of the Bali delegation, Ngurah Harta said.

"Given the attitude, we then decided that street protests and public rallies were unavoidable. Public rallies are the most effective way to boost awareness on the issue and to jolt the local politicians into taking a stance on this issue," he added.

Yet, to do so the delegation at least needs visible, initial public support. The delegation, comprised of some of the island's most respected figures, including religious leader Ida Pedanda Sebali Tianyar Arimbawa and scholar Prof. Dr. I Made Bandem, need to utilize the social and media network to get the message out across Balinese society.

"Yet, we are quite aware of the limitation of a personal network. We see the Internet as one of the most promising ways to mobilizing public support," Harta reiterated.

The task of conducting an Internet campaign fell to I Made Marlowe, the delegation's computer wizard. "It is easy to mobilize public support when they share your sentiment and believe in your cause. To reach such a situation, however, we must first educate the public on every aspect of the issue," he said.

"Our major problems right now are that a large number of people still do not have any access to the content of the bill and to the reasons and reasoning of our opposition," he said.

Marlowe then used a free service provided by to set up a simple, virtual communication post. It was aptly named Jiwa Merdeka (literally meaning "free soul"). The site ( has been in operation since Feb. 22.

"Initially, we did not pay much attention to the graphics and layout of the site. We only focused on providing the public, in the fastest way possible, with the necessary written materials. Recently, however, we've started refining the visual side of the site," he said.

On the site, people can read or download various texts, including the controversial bill, the Bali delegation's opposition statement and a list of the notable figures, who support the opposition, in addition to an enlightening paper on pornography by Prof. Dr. I Made Bandem.

"Unfortunately, most of the texts are still in Indonesian. We are now still in the process of translating the key documents to English," Marlowe added.

So far, the site has received various comments from Internet users. Most of the comments were supportive in nature. Yet, there are also some very extreme responses; such as the one urging the Balinese to secede from the Republic of Indonesia if the bill became a law.

The site has already found an "Internet buddy" and ardent supporter in another blog ( This site has stunning visual presentations accompanied with catchy taglines.

This blog has explicitly and openly voiced support for Jiwa Merdeka and the struggle against the bill. Most of its recent graphic posts were dealing with this issue. The latest one portrayed an image of a human torso with an uncovered navel and a question: What's wrong with allowing my belly button to have a peek of reality?

Well, it must be so wrong that the law will impose a hefty fine up to Rp 1 billion (over US$100,000) and a prison sentence up to ten years for navel displays.

"We expect that other webmaster and site owners will follow the Electronposts' move, supporting our site by placing a link at their site or by creating and posting content in tune with our struggle," Marlowe said.

He added that he believed that once the Internet community fully realized the threat carried by the bill to freedom of expression, then the opposition movement would gain substantial momentum.

Date Posted: 3/2/2006

At 6:42 AM, Blogger Anabelle Rodriguez said...

Dear friends at Jiwa Merdeka:

I've set up a "Bali Freedom of Expression" blog for anyone interested in this debate and the possible ramifications of the "anti-pornography bill".

In solidarity,

Anabelle Rodriguez
Philadelphia PA (USA)

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At 2:22 AM, Anonymous dirk Diggler said...

Its about time the people of Bali
face up to the tytrants running their country for them.
What is needed is revolution,
A Revolution that will be backed by the whole world and will leave Bali a free Hindu state just as with East Timor the Australian Government will certainly intervene to help You...
You have the tourism,
You are just a cash cow for the Indonesians.
Kick them out now,
Do it now while there are still Australian troops in East Timor.
You will have our full support (!!!!)


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