APSN Banner

Protesting the banning of 'Marsinah Menggugat'

Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) - December 1, 1997

Today, we, a number of artists of the Jakarta Artists Solidarity Group visited the offices of the Indonesian National Committee for Human Rights (Komnas HAM) to protest against the banning of the play 'Marsinah Menggugat' (Marsinah Accuses) by the East Java regional police force. The play had previously been performed without hindrance in seven different cities.This case represents a serious violation of the freedom of expression as guaranteed under the 1945 constitution.

On 26 November 1997, police officers from both the local Surabaya and East Java regional forces banned the play 'Marsinah Menggugat' by Ratna Sarumpaet and the Satu Merah Panggung Theatre only three hours before the performance was due to begin. The play, dealing with the unresolved murder of Indonesian labour activist Marsinah, was to be presented at the Cak Durasim Building in Surabaya at 20.00.

Dozens of police descended on the theatre without warning, and in an intimidating and heavy-handed manner ordered the Satu Merah Panggung crew to cease their activities immediately, adding that they would not be allowed to perform the play.

The police informed the Satu Merah Panggung members that they had not obtained a license to perform the play.In actual fact, the event organisers, Korps Putri Pergerakan Mahasiswa Islam Indonesia (The Women's section of the Indonesia Muslim Student Movement) had obtained a license for the performance several weeks previously. In addition, according to the License Regulations as outlined by the government, arts performances do not require a license.

This case represents a serious violation of the basic human rights to freedom of expression and freedom of opinion, as guaranteed under article 28 of the 1945 constitution.

It also eloquently demonstrates that creative freedom in Indonesia is under threat. State agencies such as the East Java police force are able, in violation of state legislation, to arbitrarily ban an arts performance using contrived reasons and only because they do not like a particular performance.

Through Komnas HAM, we, the Jakarta Artists Solidarity Group, convey our strong protest against the banning of the play 'Marsinah Menggugat' in Surabaya.

We ask Komnas HAM to take up this case because if events such as these are not addressed, the creative energy of the Indonesian people will remain under serious threat. Although conditions which guarantee creative freedom exist under the 1945 constitution, these are not respected by the regime. Through Komnas HAM, we the Jakarta Artists Solidarity Group urge the government and official agencies to respect and uphold the rights of the Indonesian people to freedom of opinion and creativity.

Through Komnas HAM, we demand that the police forces involved apologise to all those involved: the organisers, the artists , the audience and the Indonesian people in general whose rights have been violated by the banning of the play 'Marsinah Menggugat.'

Through Komnas HAM, we demand that all those concerned undertake to guarantee that a case such as this one will not be repeated anywhere else in all of Indonesia again, whomsoever the individual or which ever the art form, including the next three scheduled performances of 'Marsinah Menggugat.'

Chronology - Wednesday, November 26, 1997

16.00: Dozens of police officers headed by the Chief of the South Surabaya police intelligence unit entered the Cak Durasim building. At that moment, the Satu Merah Panggung theatre crew was in the last stages of preparation for the performance due to begin at 19.30.

Without any dialogue, the police chief ordered that all activities in the building be stopped immediately. He cited the reason that Marsinah Menggugat did not have the correct license.

Those present in the building comprised only of the Satu Merah Panggung crew and three sound engineers. As the leader of Satu Merah Panggung, Ratna Sarumpaet refused to stop preparations for that evening's performance. As an artist, Ratna was only concerend with the artistic aspect of the performance. Thus, Ratna requested the police to await the arrival of the organising committee, i.e. the women's section of the Indonesia Muslim Students Movement Surabaya (Korps Putri PMII Surabaya) in respect of the issue regarding the license to perform.

The police chief replied "where is the organising committee?" Perhaps the police thought that Satu Merah Panggung were concealing the whereabouts of the organising committee.

The situation became tense as the police became increasingly intimidating in their treatment of Ratna.

During these exchanges, police officers locked all the doors and switched off the lights to the building. The building was lit only by light entering through the glass doors.

Outside, local inhabitants watched what was happening through these glass doors. Aware of this, the police closed all the curtains and the building became dark. Because of this, one of the Satu Merah crew switched all the stage lights, which by coincidence were powered separately from the main lights to the building.

Ratna Sarumpaet decided to remain silent and sat with the rest of the theatre members on the stage. Ratna became overwhelmed by the situation.

The police blockaded the building and no-one was able to enter. A number of journalists were eventually able to enter in turn.

17.30: Ratna explained to the police that one of the crew would meet with representatives from the audience waiting outside the building in order to apologise for the cancellation of the performance. Instead of granting permission to do so, the police phone for back-up forces to come and block the entrance to the Taman Budaya Surabaya.

18.30: The atmosphere at the Taman Budaya which is located on Gentengkali road became increasingly intimidating. Dozens of uniformed police formed a human barrier three-men deep with a radius of around 500 metres to the left and to the right of the building, also using quick response unit vehicles The car park to the building was filled with. That notwithstanding, those coming to see the play continued to arrive.

19.00: The hundreds of ticket-holders who had gathered in front of the building began to shout, and the situation became increasingly tense. Several ticket-holders tried to charge and enter the building, but the security forces continued to hold them off. All that the crowd was able to do was shout and chant.

21.00: Accompanied by the organising committee, Ratna and the others members of the theatre group met with the assembled crowd which was still waiting outside. Ratna apologised for the unwanted and unexpected events which were taking place. After singing national songs of unity, the crowd dispersed.

22.00: Dozens of police officers continued to guard the building and followed Ratna as she left the Cak Durasim building, as she was accompanied by supporters and the organising committee on their way to the IAIN (State Islamic Institute Surabaya) dormitories. It was as if the police were afraid that Ratna might attempt to perform the play on the street.