Censorship pressure is on: Writers Festival cancels sessions on 1965 killings

Less than a week before the festival kicks off, organizers for the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival (UWRF) were forced to cancel a series of events discussing Indonesia’s controversial 1965 killings. 

It was apparently either cancel the events linked to the 50th anniversary of the Communist repression or run the risk of having the festival’s permits pulled by authorities, UWRF explained in a statement published on their website today. 

This comes after increased scrutiny from local authorities who have the power to revoke the Festival’s operating permit, issued by the national police. The Festival has 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 over 225 events.
Three panel sessions, an art exhibition, the book launch for The Art of Living, along with the film screening of Joshua Openheimer’s The Look of Silence have all gotten the axe from these last minute developments. 
UWRF has been running for 12 years and this is the first time they’ve been dealt this kind of blow—no doubt a sign of sensitivity around the 50 year anniversary of an incredibly dark moment in Indonesian history, where about 500,000 people died. 

“It is extremely disappointing and some might even say cowardly that the government is refusing to discuss this national tragedy,” UWRF founder and director Janet DeNeefe said, as quoted by Fairfax Media

“It’s almost like censorship has become fashionable overnight again,” she added.

But it seems like that by trying to silence open dialogue about the killings, authorities are doing the very opposite of their goal—drawing further attention to the history and sparking an even more intense level of international scrutiny as news spreads of the festival’s coerced programming changes. 

“You can’t silence something like that – sometimes these things are needed because they bring things to a head. This is almost like our look of silence – by not holding these sessions there is a powerful message,” DeNeefe said. 

Photo: Flickr

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