Defending LGBT love story, alliance formed to support press freedom on campus

Kumparan – April 2, 2019
AMP-L protest action at Lampung University – March 31, 2019 (ist)
AMP-L protest action at Lampung University – March 31, 2019 (ist)

Lampung Geh, Bandar Lampung – There has been support and opposition in the aftermath of the short story titled When Everyone Refuses My Presence Near Her (Ketika Semua Menolak Kehadiranku di Dekatnya), which was published on the Suara USU (Voice of USU) website and social media.

As a form of concrete solidarity with Suara USU, the Lampung Student Press Alliance (APM-L) – which represents an alliance of 16 press organisations from nine North Sumatra tertiary education institutions in Lampung – has taken a number of steps to support their professional colleagues.

Based on a press release received by Lampung Geh, the author of the short story, Yeal Stefani, has been accused of writing a story which contains pornography and gives space to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) groups.

The Suara USU’s editorial board rejected a request by USU Rector Runtung Sitepu to withdraw the story saying that it was a literary work criticising discrimination against minority groups.

As a result, Sitepu sacked the entire Suara USU editorial board and evicted them from their secretariat building. Sitepu also plans to recruit a new editorial board so that Suara USU will report on positive things about the campus.

“So earlier we from the Lampung Student Press Alliance held a public discussion on the issue with our colleagues at the USU”, Lampung Student Press Alliance (APM) Coordinator Alfanny Pratama explained on Tuesday April 2.

A number of different individuals and groups were invited to the discussion on Saturday March 30 including Alexander GB (Positive Blessing Community (Kober) chairperson), Padli Ramdan (Bandar Lampung Alliance of Independent Journalists chairperson), Hanafi Sampurna (Lampung Legal Aid Foundation for the Press director), Udo Z. Karzi (Lampung Authors), Yulizar Fadli (Kober), the Bandar Lampung Legal Aid Foundation (LBH), the Student League for Democracy (LMND) and a number of professional journalists and members of the Lampung Student Press Institute (Presma).

A number of points of view came out of the discussion that day which were then used to formulate the position which will be taken up by the APM-L.

“Following the discussion we highlighted the rectorate’s actions in arbitrarily sacking the Student Press members (at USU) and the authoritarian policies of the rectorate”, explained Pratama.

“Udo as a literary author also said that the work presented a social reality and had a valuable message that can be taken away, if you avoid LGBT people you will be avoided by society”, he said quoting from the words of Udo Z. Karzi.

In relation to the short story, in many places such subjects are still taboo, so it triggered opposition. Yet well known authors such as Ayu Lestari, Eka Kurniawan, Djenar Maesa Ayu and even William Shakespeare have quite often used a similar language.

As a form of concrete solidarity, on March 31 the APM-L held a protest action at the Lampung University traffic circle calling for the withdrawal of the letter dismissing the Suara USU editorial board, a reevaluation of the decision through an open and rational discussion which would be attended by the Press Council and the Communication and Information Technology Minister and a guarantee of freedom of expression and opinion at USU.

During the protest student journalists from across Lampung held a “pen breaking” ceremony as a symbol of their disappointment with Sitepu. The pen is seen as the symbolic weapon of journalists to write reports on the truth, social control and power.

“We will send the results of the contributions by the authors, whether they be books, short stories or novels, to the USU rector, who still believes that this style of language and literary discussion is taboo”, said Pratama on April 2.

“We will also send the broken pens (from the solidarity action). These represent our disappointment. As a rector, he can break the tools journalists use to write, but he cannot break the idealism contained within it”, said Pratama.

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was “Bentuk Solidaritas APM-L, Atas Pemecatan Pengurus Persma Suara USU”.]