JAKARTA, April 5 “” An Indonesian court acquitted the editor of Playboy Indonesia on indecency charges today, angering conservative Muslims who have been fighting to shut down the magazine since it first appeared last year.
The trial, which lasted months, highlighted growing divisions here between a rising conservative movement and the moderate Muslims who make up the majority of the population.
Hundreds of conservative Muslims, many of them members of the Islamic Defender’s Front, a hard-line Islamic organization that has led the fight against Playboy, staged a protest outside the courtroom during the verdict, blocking traffic and shouting slogans.
Hundreds of police officers were deployed, armed with water cannons, to keep order.
In the trial, the prosecutors argued that the magazine editor, Erwin Arnada, was guilty of indecency for publishing photographs of unclothed women. They sought a jail term of more than two years.
But the presiding judge, Erfan Basuning, said the prosecution’s arguments did not square with laws passed in 1998 guaranteeing freedom of the press.
“This is not only a victory for Playboy, this is a victory for all of the press in Indonesia,” Mr. Arnada said in an interview after the verdict. “This decision will become a legal precedent.”
Ultimately, that is the significance of this case, especially in light of the proposed legislation described below, which would make the matter of magazine content only the tip of the iceberg.
Unlike its American counterpart, Playboy Indonesia, which has been published monthly since April 2006, does not feature photos of models who are entirely nude, though many are wearing very little. Most of the magazine’s contents are articles about Indonesian politics and culture and interviews with prominent Indonesian artists. Far racier magazines and newspapers are available on street corners in all of Indonesia’s major cities.
But please look the other way from our double standards.
Even so, Islamic conservatives, whose influence appears to be growing in a country that is about 85 percent Muslim, have zeroed in on Playboy as a symbol of what they say are declining morals in the country.
The magazine relocated its offices to the mostly Hindu island of Bali last year after they were attacked with stones by the Islamic Defender’s Front, which also regularly intimidated the magazine’s employees and advertisers.
“Unfortunately, there is very little support for us here,” Mr. Arnada said of the Indonesian business establishment. “They are afraid of the Muslim defenders. We lost all
Mr. Arnada said the magazine earns enough from subscriptions to keep publishing without other revenue.
After it published its first issue, the Justice and Prosperity Party, an Islamic political group, introduced in parliament a sweeping public morals bill that would ban all pornography and stipulate how women would be allowed to dress in public, and even dance.
The bill has since been considerably watered down, and is still languishing in parliament after almost a year. It generated a national uproar last year, with large protest demonstrations mounted by both sides, and the parliament’s failure to enact it is seen as a
blow to the conservative movement.
Today”s verdict in the case against Playboy is another such blow, indicating that conservative Muslims” support may not be as widespread as previously thought.
Mr. Arnada, 41, said today that he was relieved by court’s decision and impressed with the judge’s handling of the case.
“The judge remained objective throughout the trial, even though there was so much pressure from hard-line Muslim organizations,” he said.