Behind the ban of “Prison and Paradise”


Towards the end of last year, I learnt that Daniel Rudi Haryanto’s “Penjara dan Nirwana” (Prison and Paradise, 2010) did not get a Censorship Certificate (STLS) from the Indonesian Film Censorship Board (LSF). It means that the film is banned from public viewing under the jurisdiction of Indonesia.

After the massive political changes in 1998 that succeeded in removing President Soeharto, this is the second time that a movie did not get the censorship certificate in Indonesia. Previously, “Dendam Pocong” (2006), directed by Monty Tiwa also had the same problem. The reason behind the ban of “Dendam Pocong”, according to Monty Tiwa in a phone call, was that there was a concern that the film had the potential to open an “old wound”.

“Dendam Pocong” depicts violence against the Chinese during the riots in 1998. As a result, “Pocong 2” became one of the most unique films in Indonesia, as the film is not a sequel from the first film. The truth is that “Pocong 1” was never publicly released.

Prison and Paradise suffered a similar problem as “Dendam Pocong”. Without the censorship certificate, the film cannot be played theatrically. The reasons of the ban were stated in the rejection letter No: 26/DVD/TLK/LSF.XII/2011, dated December 9, 2011. I got a copy of the letter from Daniel Rudi Haryanto (aka Rudi Gajahmada) and the reasons for the ban are below in italics:

“The film is filled with dialogue reflecting a misleading propaganda, so that it will give a negative influence on the Islamic younger generation in Indonesia. Therefore, the documenatary film does not fit with the criteria of censorship and religious aspects, thus cannot be circulated or distributed in the Republic of Indonesia.”

The “religious aspects” referred to actually relates to the censorship rules created during the New Order, Government Regulation (PP) No. 6 in 1994, of the Film Censorship Board. On the religious question, a film may be denied from screening within the jurisdiction of Indonesia with following religious reasons (I quote these from Article 2 of the government regulation):

“(2) The elements assessed in terms of religion are:

a. a film which gives an impression of anti-God and anti-religion in all its forms and manifestations;

b. a film which can damage the inter-religious harmony in Indonesia; or;

c. insults one of the recognised religions in Indonesia.”

In fact, the Film Censorship Board is still working under regulations that were written during the New Order with the intention to control film content. Until now, there has been no censorship regulation to substitute this previous regulation.

It is interesting to note that the rejection letter given to Prison and Paradise coincided with the judging process at the Festival Film Indonesia (FFI) in 2011, when the film was selected as one of the nominees for Best Documentary.

As a result of this letter, the Executive Committee of FFI stated that the nomination should be cancelled because, according to the Guidelines for FFI, all films registered in the FFI must have a censorship certificate.

Prison and Paradise (and many short films and other documentaries) actually do not have censorship certificates when they were submitted to FFI. The FFI executive committee, according to its chairman Abduh Aziz, planned to register all films with the LSF (Lembaga Sensor Film or Film Censorship Board) in order to meet the requirements of their guidelines.

But instead of being approved by the board, Prison and Paradise was rejected, and consequently, its nomination revoked. Even the roadshow, originally planned by the FFI Committee for November 15 to 23 2011, was cancelled. Not only that, Daniel Rudi Haryanto’s roadshow to introduce his film to 37 cities, was stopped at the 17th city. Based on his statements, Rudi was often visited by the police who asked for the film censorship certificate, during his tour to various cities.

Abduh Aziz had said that he got the information of Prison and Paradise’s rejection from Totot Indrarto, one of the judges in the FFI committee, who said that it was rejected at the plenary level of LSF. When I contacted Totot, he only said that the information he received from LSF staff was not clear, though they implied that a rejection was given at the plenary level.

Then I contacted Akhlis Suryapati, a journalist and director, who is now a member of LSF. He explained how the LSF works. Every day, members of LSF are working in groups and they have a schedule to censor films. They decide which films will pass or not pass, and then the group will create a letter to be signed by the Chairman of the LSF. If there is a movie that cannot be decided at the committee level, the film is usually discussed at the executive level. Beyond this level, is the final plenary level, where all members of the LSF, about 45 people, will be invited to talk about it.

Akhlis Suryapati said that he was never invited to the plenary meeting to discuss the film, Prison and Paradise. So it is most likely that Prison and Paradise was rejected at the committee level. Akhlis advised me to contact the Chairman of the LSF, Mukhlis Paeni and LSF’s secretary, Pudji Rahaju. Mukhlis Paeni said he did not have time to answer my interview request, as he was busy with teaching. He also did not have the data on the film and suggested that I contact Pudji Rahayu.

From Pudji Rahayu, I received confirmation that Prison and Paradise failed to pass the censorship process at the first group level. But Rahayu Pudji said that she was in a rush and wanted to end the conversation as soon as possible.


I watched Prison and Paradise when the film was screened in the competition section of the Documentary Film Festival 2010 in Yogyakarta. I was a jury member. Prison and Paradise tells us about the Bali bombers. Rudi successfully interviewed Mukhlas, Imam Samudra and Amrozi in prison. They were given the opportunity by Rudi to express their in-depth views about Islam, jihad and the bombings. In addition to them, Rudi also interviewed Noor Huda Ismail, a former journalist and now an activist in the Inscription Peace Foundation, who was once a roommate of one of the bombers when they were together studying in a boarding school, Al Mukmin, Ngruki, a boarding school led by Abubakar Ba’asyir.

Rudi’s coverage on Noor Huda is somewhat overdone, in my opinion, and even includes a meeting with Noor Huda and the bomber’s family and Noor Huda’s trip to Bali to see the Ground Zero Monument of the bombing. It was Rudi’s effort to show Noor Huda’s reflections rather than just present the facts and the opinions about the bombing. This section is an effort to neutralize the views of the bombers and to provide an overview that there can be two completely different intersections on the same road, as both Noor Huda and the bomber came from the same Al Mukmin, Ngruki pesantren (Islamic school) in Central Java.

But the statements of the bombers were considered by the LSF as propaganda speeches. As we know, most of the bombers (such as Amrozi and Imam Samudra) never regretted their actions and assumed that what they had done is a sacred path desired by Islam. This was considered as misleading propaganda by the LSF.

Of course, the sentences are likely to be misleading when they are used out of context. However, don’t you think that almost every movie has a potential to mislead when there are sentences that are removed from context? I feel that this movie has to be seen in full, as I believe that the audience is capable enough to sort out which information is credible and which ones are not.

In addition, it must be remembered that the standard LSF censorship still depends on regulations made under the New Order. Censorship regulation for a film should be the government’s responsibility. Until now, there is NO new regulation, and Indonesian filmmakers are still treated with suspicion, as they were during the New Order.

Actually, before the film was rejected by LSF, Prison and Paradise already invited protests. The Embassy of Indonesia in the United Arab Emirates questioned the participation of Prison and Paradise at the Dubai International Film Festival in December 2010. The film, as the embassy claimed, had internationally maligned Indonesia, as well as complicated the Indonesian government’s efforts in tourism promotion. The protest was delivered by the Embassy in Dubai to the Ministry of Tourism and Culture (the name of the ministry at the time), and this protest influenced Syamsul Lussa, the Director of Film, an institution under the Directorate General of Cultural Art and Film, at the ministry,  to call Daniel Rudi Haryanto to the Sapta Pesona Building, the office of the Minister. In early 2011, Rudi attended the meeting.

On that occasion, Rudi met Syamsul Lussa and several officials at the Ministry, such as the head of the Bureau of Law and a few others. According to Rudi, he was reprimanded for screening a film that had not passed censorship and gave a bad name to Indonesia in the eyes of the world. Rudi had to meet Syamsul Lussa a second time later that year in Malang, East Java. The film had been banned by LSF by this time. Rudi tried to explain the film’s importance as various festivals had selected it and it even won the New Asian Currents Award at the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, one of the most prestigious documentary film festivals in the world. But according to Syamsul Lussa, it was not relevant. Prison and Paradise had made the Ministry of Tourism and Culture receive an unwanted protest from the Embassy of Indonesia in Dubai (United Arab Emirates).
Later I spoke to Syamsul Lussa about this meeting. He said that Rudi was reckless with his film on two points. First, the film was released without a censorship certificate, and second – this surprised me – Rudi never registered his film with the Minister of Culture before production, as in the Film Act of 2009 (article 17 paragraph 1) regarding the obligation to register a film, in order to protect the film from plagiarism in the title and story (as stated in Article 17 paragraph 3). I can certainly understand the point concerning the absence of the censorship letter (though I do not agree with the letter and the reprimand), but if he was blamed for not registering his film to the Minister of Culture, I think that rule is being used wrongfully.

The registration of films is one of the problematic rules in the Film Act. Will we keep using this law to admonish filmmakers who have a different viewpoint from the government?
Syamsul Lussa refused to acknowledge that what he did was an effort to control what has been made by filmmakers. He said that what happened to Rudi and Prison and Paradise is an attempt to guide the filmmaker. Hmm, I did not expect us to go back to a time when the Ministry of Information would give  us “coaching”.



Daniel Rudi Haryanto was worried about speaking too strongly in defending the film, Prison and Paradise, when he was finishing his second film. As he said, if he resisted, there was a chance that the film could have difficulties passing censorship in the future. It seems that the country has not yet succeeded in eliminating fears about creativity and in many cases, these fears have increased.

The LSF continues to operate in a nebulous bureaucracy, whether they are under the Ministry of Tourism and the Creative Economy or within the Ministry of Education and Culture?

The stewardship of LSF led by Mukhlis Paeni will expire in 2012. There are many issues that need change. For example, two important changes would be:

–        the transparency in the election of 17 members of the LSF (no longer 45 as it is not in accordance to the Film Act 2009)

–        and the transparency decision-making mechanisms within the institution.


Translated from Bahasa Indonesia by Philip Cheah. Thanks Philip!

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