Supporting Indonesian Initiative, ‘Banned Literature in Translation’

The Indonesian literary platform InterSastra recently translated the excerpt of Ahmed Naji’s Using Life that got the Egyptian author two years in prison:

bannedNow, InterSastra is raising money to put together a series from banned writers around the world, translated into three languages: Indonesian, English, and Norwegian. On the fundraising page, they write:

Recently in Indonesia the police and radical groups have been attacking and forcefully disbanding discussions, book launches, performances, film screenings, festivals, and other cultural events. Military men seized books from personal possessions and bookstores. For a long list of such violations to citizens’ right to free expression, see

Those attacks occurred despite the fact that since the fall of the authoritarian New Order regime in 1998, Indonesia has amended the constitution and signed laws to guarantee freedom of expression along with other human rights.

To stand up against forced cancellations of cultural events and the seizing of books, InterSastra is publishing an online series of Banned Literature in Translation, featuring short works by writers from Indonesia and around the world who experienced bans, censorship, or persecution.

InterSastra’s Eliza Vitri Handayani further said, over email, that this banned literature will come from all over the world. The first part of the series is planned for Jan-Dec 2017.

Handayani expanded on the search for writers from around the world:

Many ways have been used to restrict the freedom of writers to express their thoughts and maintain the integrity of their vision. Some writers have seen the publication of their books banned, others have seen their books pulled out of libraries and bookstores, others have seen their books burned. Some writers have been fired from their job because what their wrote, bookstores and reviewers were forbidden from selling or reviewing their books. Some writers have been arrested or jailed. Some have been physically attacked or threatened with violence or death. Some had to leave their homeland and can never return. Some have been killed.

Sometimes censorship are committed not by authoritarian government bodies, but by hard line groups. These groups may storm into bookstores and demand certain books to be removed, or they may threaten to wreck a venue unless an event is cancelled or disbanded. Sometimes publishers themselves demand authors to delete certain passages of their books because those are not in line with the publishing house’s morality policy, or for political reasons. Censorship of course is very different from editing—an author can benefit much from listening to a good editor who gives sound suggestions on how to make the author’s voice shine more clearly, but to demand authors to delete passages without any possibility for discussion is not editing.

In freer nations, one can still be silenced from speaking up about certain topics for fear of harming their chances to get published or promoted, to obtain funding, or to get tenure.

In Indonesia, threats against writers, journalists, and literary events come not only from the authorities or extremist groups, but also from powerful individuals and corporations. Defamation charges are often used to silence criticism and accusations.  Given the high level of corruption in the court system, corporate or individual businessman’s interests have great influence on the outcome of defamation cases. Furthermore, the ownership structure of the media, especially in the districts, may also work against critical journalism as the owners of newspapers often have political or business interests.Other than politics, religion, and business interests, another often-used excuse to curb creative freedom in Indonesia is morality (read: sexuality). This law, along with fear of upsetting fundamentalist Islamic groups, made some writers and publishers practice self-censorship – although some practice it due to their own conservative leanings.

Our series aim to publish writers that have been censored using various methods, include all of the above.

You can find the crowdfunding campaign at Kickstarter and more about InterSastra at


    1. Thank you!

  1. Wow Indonesia? I’m Indonesian but never heard inter sastra

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