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PEN Case (1962): Mochtar Lubis – Indonesia, Imprisoned

Mochtar Lubis during a trip to the Netherlands, 5 April 1979

© Rob Bogaerts / Anefo, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons


Mochtar Lubis was born in Padang, West Sumatra inMarch 1922.  He worked for the Indonesian National News Agency before becoming editor of the newspaper Indonesia Raya.  The newspaper was often critical of President Sukarno and in 1956 Lubis was imprisoned without trial for his writings and placed under house arrest.  In 1958 Indonesia Raya was shut down.

Mochtar Lubis was released in April 1961 and travelled to Israel to address the general assembly of the International Press Institute in Tel Aviv where he criticised the Sukarno regime’s treatment of the media.  Upon his return to Indonesia, he was arrested and re-imprisoned until his release in 1966.

Two years after his release Lubis revived Indonesia Raya before it was again closed down permanently in 1974.  The same year, Lubis was arrested on charges of sedition; he was released two months later.  After his release, he became involved in the Asia Press Foundation and founded the literary magazine Horizon as well as being a director of the publishing group Yayasan Obor Indonesia. 

Lubis’ novels include Twilight in Jakarta which was published in 1957 and was the first Indonesian novel to be translated into English.   Mochtar Lubis died in Jakarta in July 2004, aged 82.

Writing Sample

There is today abundant material on Indonesian history. However, I soon found out that while Indonesian historical material until the arrival of the Europeans in Indonesia had been treated as Indonesian history by the numerous Dutch historians and other scholars, the historical material thereafter was not. [ …] with the arrival of ships from Western Europe, the point of view was turned 180°and from then on, the Indies had been observed from the deck of the ship, the ramparts of the fortress, the high gallery of the trading-house.

I found it a constant struggle to maintain my ‘Indonesian optic’, and not be overwhelmed by the historical material written by so many Dutch and other European scholars, particularly the material which had been weighed with, and therefore distorted by, Dutch and European values. A few such distortions include notions that the Indonesians were mostly cruel, untrustworthy, treacherous; the Buginese, Acehnese, Makassarese, and Javanese pirates made the sea unsafe and undermined peaceful trade. The Bantamese were rebels. The Acehnese were orang jahat (bad men).

I felt I had to be constantly on guard against these value-laden historical materials and not forget that the pirates, rebels, and orang jahat were Indonesians who had been constantly fighting the foreign invaders.

But after having gone through such rich and enormous materials I realise how much work remains to be done if we in Indonesia really want to reconstruct our history through the ‘Indonesian optic’ so long discussed among many Indonesians. How far I have succeeded in looking at Indonesian history through an ‘Indonesian optic’ is for the reader to decide.

The writing of this book has therefore been like stepping into a time machine. I have voyaged into the misty pre-history of Indonesia, gone through all the different stages and come back to the present. It is a voyage of rediscovering not only Indonesia, but also of myself as an Indonesian. I feel that, having stepped out of the time machine, I now have increased confidence in myself as a human being, and a new awareness as well as a re-vindication of my identity as an Indonesian.

From ‘Preface’ in Indonesia: Land under the Rainbow (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1987) ISBN: 0 19 588977 0 (Tiger Tiger – in Indonesian).

Useful Links

Wikipedia on Mochtar Lubis:

Read Lubis’ biography by David T. Hill:

Links to Lubis’ books: