This was perhaps one of the most interesting press conferences that the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival has put on over the last 12 years. Thick in the air, and dominating most of the statements and Q&A, was the theme of censorship.

by Rio Helmi


The recent police and government ban on all panels regarding 1965 was explained by Wayan Juniartha in his role as Indonesian Program Manager. As he pointed out, as far as the UWRF is concerned, their decision to drop those panels is a legal one. He also pointed out that there are still laws in place regarding any public discussion dealing with Marxism, Leninism etc which UWRF’s organiser, the Mudra Swari Saraswati foundation, as a legal entity formed in Indonesia is obliged to obey.


The UWRF’s permit, like all other permits for public activities in Indonesia, is issued with clear caveats in the clauses that allow the police to revoke the permit should these laws be transgressed. To date UWRF has enjoyed strong support from the local and provincial government; this warning shot over their bow was not to be ignored.


It must be said that Wayan Juniartha handled elegantly the questions that, with the exception of one Indonesian journalist, came from Western media. A veteran journalist himself, he was patient and spoke with great clarity. Kudos. Other speakers of note were of course the foundation’s director Ketut Suardana and Festival founder and Director Janet Deneefe.


Then Indonesian writer Eka Kurniawan spoke of his experience as a young writer coming to UWRF for the first time nine years ago; today he is back as an internationally acclaimed author. He stated that writing itself isn’t banned: sometimes books are published only to be banned or burned, but that it was important to continue to write anyway. Michael Chabon spoke eloquently of the process of his discovery of the magic of literature, and leading Indonesian film maker Nia Dinata spoke of her experiences of the vagaries and abdsurdities dealing with Indonesian film censors.


Eka Kurniawan addresses the media  


UWRF press release: this was the official statement read out by Wayan Juniarta at the start of the press conference.


It was with great disappointment that the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival last week announced the cancellation of select 2015 program sessions.


This came after increased scrutiny from local authorities who have the power to revoke the Festival’s operating permit, issued by the national police.


In the lead up to the announcement, the Festival had been involved in extensive negotiations with local authorities, but ultimately was advised that should certain sessions proceed, it would run the risk of the entire Festival being cancelled, which spans 220 events.


After much consideration and discussion, I was with deep regret the Festival decided that it could not jeopardise the entirety of the event at this late stage. A significant proportion of our program is dedicated to discussing extremely important issues, such as human rights, activism and freedom of speech, and we felt that these also deserved to be discussed over the course of the Festival.


We sincerely apoplogise to our Festival attendees, the many people who have put in extensive time and resources into these sessions, including the Herb Feith Foundation, and of course the people whose lives were impacted by the issues under discussion.


We would also like to thank the national and international community, who have rallied behind us on this issue. We’ve been overwhelmed by the support we’ve received and it’s a clear indication of how important the Festival is to Indonesia’s intellectual landscape. We do feel that despite the cancellations, the issue is now getting the attention it deserves.


Although the past week has been extremely difficult, we are confident that we can preserve the integrity of the Festival in future years. We have enjoyed a very strong relationship with the local authorities for over a decade now, and after the Festival, we will focus our efforts on restoring this and ensuring that the Festival continues for many more years to come.


Despite this setback, we are extremely proud to be presenting one of our most Indonesia-focused programs to date, which highlights the incredible diversity and richness of the archipelago. For now, let us look to the next four days and all the hard work that has been put in by the Festival, its partners and supporters.


Thank you.


photos ©Rio Helmi