Forced Cancellation of Indonesia Festival Events Indicates Worsening Atmosphere for Free Expression
The forced cancellation of events at Indonesia’s largest writers’ festival intended to commemorate a 1965 massacre indicates the worsening atmosphere for free expression within the country, PEN American Center said in a statement today.
Indonesian authorities threatened the organizers of the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival in Bali with revocation of the festival’s operating license, an unprecedented moment in the festival’s 12-year history. The planned events were intended to shed light and foster dialogue on a dark period in Indonesian history during 1965 and 1966 when at least 500,000 people were killed after an attempted Communist coup. Previous years of the festival have featured discussions about the massacre and screenings of Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary on the period entitled “The Art of Killing.” This year, a screening of Oppenheimer’s second documentary on the same topic, “The Look of Silence,” had already been cancelled at the festival after threats of arrest from police and security services.
“Pressure from the Indonesian government to silence discussion of the 1965 massacre signals a worrying deterioration of the right to free expression as well as a misguided effort to erase a horrific moment in Indonesia’s history,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of Free Expression Programs at PEN. “The government should allow the festival to proceed without interference, as it has done for the past 12 years.”