Journalists threaten to fight 'Balibo' movie censorship

JAKARTA: A journalists group threatened Tuesday to fight a ban on the war movie "Balibo" with a constitutional court challenge if the Indonesian government enforces its countrywide prohibition.

Earlier this month, Indonesia's censorship board banned the screening of the award-winning Australian movie, which depicts Indonesian military atrocities in the East Timorese border town of Balibo in the weeks before the 1975 invasion of the former Portuguese colony.

Since then, the Alliance of Independent Journalists has been showing the movie in venues around the country, and sales of pirated DVDs are flourishing without police interference in markets in the capital, Jakarta.

Police spokesman Col. Untung Ketut Yoga said the government ban cannot be enforced until police receive written confirmation of its terms from the government.

Andreas Harsono, founder of the alliance, said the journalists will lodge a constitutional court challenge if the government takes the next step of enforcing the ban, which was instituted Dec. 1.

"This is all the legacy of the Suharto regime that we are trying to scrap piece by piece," said Harsono, whose group began as an underground free speech movement under the Suharto dictatorship, which ended in 1998.

The movie, which claims to be based on a true story, depicts Indonesian troops murdering five unarmed journalists in Balibo to conceal Indonesia's involvement in East Timor ahead of the invasion.

The reporters were citizens of Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

Australian police have launched a war crimes investigation into the incident.

Indonesia maintains that the five were accidentally killed in crossfire.

The Robert Connolly-directed movie, starring Anthony LaPaglia, was withdrawn from the Dec. 4-12 Jakarta International Film Festival due to the ban.

The constitutional court has lifted bans on five politically sensitive films about East Timor and Indonesia's restive Aceh province that prevented their screenings at the 2006 Jakarta film festival.

A lawyer who helped win those challenges, Christiana Chelsia Chan, said she believed the Balibo ban was similarly unconstitutional.

Such a court challenge would be the first test of Indonesia's new film censorship laws, passed in October.

The laws are the first revision of censorship regulations since the Suharto era.

Film festival director Lalu Roisamri, who submitted "Balibo" to the censors, welcomed the prospect of the court appeal.

He said freedom of speech was going backward in Indonesia.

"I'm afraid so, because I think the government is paranoid," Roisamri said.

Connolly said he had given copyright permission to the alliance to screen his movie, but that the DVDs being sold in markets were illegal. He said he had been "naively optimistic" that the government censors would allow the movie to be screened at commercial cinemas.

"Indonesia is a democracy now, and certainly there is a whole generation of people in Indonesia who are engaging in their past, as you can see from the response to the film," Connolly said, referring to the popularity of the pirated DVDs.

The censorship board said it banned the movie because of its "questionable objectivity" and "potential to open old wounds."

The movie will be released worldwide next year. - AP

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