Banned writer's opening speech, poetry slams, workshops and discussions about the country's favorite topic: religious blasphemy.

Krystal Buckle   20 July 2017 12:00

Established in 2014 by former editor of the Jakarta Post Abdul Khalik and Indonesian novelist Okky Madasari, the ASEAN Literary Festival aims to foster cultural dialogue through literature and promote freedom of expression. In 2016, the festival’s discussion of sensitive topics including the 1965 mass killings and LGBT community was widely objected to. Pressure from hundreds of demonstrators, including local militant groups, caused the event to nearly be shut down.

The festival was criticized last year, but it doesn't mean that there's not going to be another event this year.

In fact, this year, the 4th ASEAN Literary Festival is ready to launch in August with many interesting things to expect.

For a start, award-winning writer Faisal Tehrani will open and speak at the opening. "What makes the writer special?" you might ask. For a start, one play and five of Tehrani’s novels are banned in Malaysia. That should say something.

Then, the festival will host a series of events involving writers, artists, intellectuals and scholars from ten ASEAN countries. As a forum for the debate of contentious issues, the program will include speeches on blasphemy law, persecution and radicalism.

Journalist and writer Arswendo Atmodiloto will discuss one of Indonesia’s hottest issues in contemporary politics: religious blasphemy. The Culture and Education Ministry’s Director-General for Culture, Hilmar Farid will speak about uniting Southeast Asia through literature while foreign journalist Michael Vatikiotis will discuss populism and radicalism following the publication of his latest book on religious conflict. Poetry slams, travel writing workshops and book launches will also be held during the three-day festival.

“Being a community means exploring each other’s culture, including literature and books from each country member,” the festival co-founder Okky Madasari said in an interview with Antara. “Only culture and literature can genuinely tie us together. Focusing on only economics and politics would make the ASEAN community mere rhetoric and illusion,” she said.


The 4th ASEAN Literary Festival will take place in Kota Tua, Jakarta from August 3-6.


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