Arnada outside an earlier court hearing. (Reuters/Crack Palinggi)

Indonesian Playboy editor held in high-security prison

By Bob Dietz/CPJ Asia Program Coordinator on October 15, 2010 2:46 PM ET

Erwin Arnada turned himself in to authorities at Cipinang prison in East Jakarta on October 9 to start serving a two-year sentence for public indecency. His conviction stemmed from pictures he published in a 2006 issue of the now-defunct Indonesian edition of Playboy magazine. On September 30, CPJ called on President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Supreme Court Chief Justice Harifin Tumpa to allow Arnada to remain free while the Court heard his appeal.

According to his lawyer, Todung Mulya Lubis, Arnada is being held in the general population. His legal team is appealing his conviction, but the full process will take about one year, Lubis says.

Cipinang is a high-security facility, built by the Dutch during colonial rule. It has often been used to hold political activists, especially during the 32 years of the Suharto presidency. It's a tough and dangerous place. Some of Cipinang's cells hold prisoners accused of terrorism. Gang members stir violence inside the fortress-like compound. According to the Jakarta Post, "Two inmates died and five others were seriously injured when armed gangs clashed inside Cipinang" in August 2007.

Of course, Arnada should not be in prison at all; his conviction should be overturned. He is a magazine editor who cooperated with the government through a two-year long judicial process. His innocence was supported by two lower court rulings. Indonesian Playboy, which closed in mid-2007 after printing 10 issues, was a lot less racy than what is generally available on the country's newsstands, leading Arnanda and his legal team to believe he was singled out for political harassment by conservative Islamic groups. Throwing him into a facility like Cipinang is judicial overkill.

It's also a step backwards for a country that has otherwise made great strides away from the repressive era of Suharto's presidency.

On Thursday, Indonesia's nine-judge Constitutional Court revoked the Attorney General's Office power to ban books. The court, which passes judgments on constitutional issues only, ruled that the power to halt the printing and distribution of books should belong to the lower courts.

Book-banning powers are a largely considered a holdover from the Suharto era yet, as recently as December 2009, the Attorney General's Office banned five books. The Southeast Asia Press Alliance has a list of the banned books here, as well as a statement signed by 82 authors and activists calling for the government to abolish "its apparatus which is still practicing the behavior of the ancient anti-democratic regime."

Their point: The law became an anomaly after Suharto resigned in 1998, when Indonesia began to move toward becoming one of Southeast Asia's best examples of democracy. Successive presidencies successfully balanced democratic policies with the expectations of its predominantly Islamic culture. Indonesia is the world's largest Islamic country, with more than 240 million people, 95 percent of them Muslim. It is also considered the world's third-largest democracy.

Thursday's ruling didn't rule out book-banning altogether, unfortunately. The government is still allowed to temporarily ban a book while its case against the book moves through the courts. And of course, the anti-pornography laws that resulted in Erwin Arnada's imprisonment are still part of the system.

If Indonesian officials are truly committed to stepping out from the shadow of the Suharto era, these things must change.


Free Erwin Arnada !

To the Honourable Justices
Supreme Court of Indonesia

Your Honours,

I respectfully present my unsolicited objections to the conviction of Erwin Arnada, ex –editor in Chief of Playboy Indonesia. Your judgment – incarcerating him for two years for the crime of publishing photographs of ‘scantily’ clad women in the edition of Playboy Indonesia is an aberration of justice. Sadly the honourable court has succumbed to the power of warped religious hardliners and interpreted the Law of the Land selectively to appease those who seek to drag the modern state of Indonesia back to the medieval age.

Erwin Arnada did not commit a crime that many other ‘glossies’ haven’t done…depict women in little or nothing. Walk down some streets of Jakarta and you can buy publications that are smutty and blatantly sexual…one well known publication had even printed detailed illustrations of sexual positions. Further, if Erwin is guilty of printing ‘indecent’ photographs then you would have to jail most of the people in Bali. Why just those from Jakarta? Is it because the hardliners cannot influence the Balinese?

Your Honours, I present my defense of Erwin Arnada, a victim of blinkered justice.

There is evidence that the Pornography Law has been applied. If this is so then those associated with glossies, advertising, massage parlours and even tourists on the beaches of Bali could be jailed for indecency using your judgment as a yardstick.

The independent judiciary has been subject to influence by hardliners who have become the self appointed guardians of morality. They (hardliners) have subverted justice by claiming that the icon of American culture, Playboy, was harmful to the ‘morals’ of the Muslim population of Indonesia. This is pathetic and downright absurd. One has only to view the glossies in Bali, the TV programs and more to know that the hardliners objections have no Locus Standi.

Erwin’s version of Playboy was not immoral nor was it XXX.

Indonesia has struggled to shrug off its Dark and turbulent Past and has emerged as a vibrant, modern and progressive State – a Republic that has the largest Muslim population in the world under the dynamic leadership of President Dr. H. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. This is a miracle. Unfortunately, your ruling has given the impression that Muslim hardliners control Indonesia and that their diktat rules supreme in Java but thankfully not in Bali!

If Erwin had been Balinese and had published Playboy from Bali, I wonder what the hardliners would have done.

In Bali, old black and white photographs of topless Balinese women are sold. One can purchase coffee table art books with these pictures taken many decades ago; Beautiful, haunting and indicative of a vibrant ethos. My question is – Do we convict the photographers, sellers, publishers and seize all this material? Why not? If we can convict Erwin Arnada for the crime of showing scantily clad females then the aforementioned ‘offenders’ should be given life sentences as per the views of the lobotomized hardliners.

For me and many other friends of Indonesia this is truly a sad day when we have to witness justice dispensed selectively. It is a message to the world that the Republic of Indonesia is under threat from hardliners where free speech is subject to their interpretation and that freethinkers in Indonesia now live under this Sword of Damocles.

On the eve of the visit of The President of the United States of America, His Excellency Barack Hussein Obama II, to Indonesia, this judgment will most likely give the world the impression that the country is slipping back into the Dark Ages.

And who do we blame for this?

On behalf of the freethinkers in Indonesia and elsewhere I appeal to your true sense of justice - FREE Erwin Arnada ex-Editor in Chief of Playboy, Indonesia – And show the world that Indonesia has an independent and liberal judiciary.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

My letter published in The Jakarta Post –
Write in now for Press Freedom…..!!!!

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