Free in Body, Playboy Editor Cannot Escape Prison of Mind

The Jakarta Globe

For Erwin Arnada, former editor of the short-lived Indonesian edition of Playboy magazine, memories of prison — such as the smell of rusty iron and moldy prison walls — are taking some time to shed. 


Erwin, who was released on Friday having served eight months in the Cipinang State Penitentiary in the capital, told the Jakarta Globe that he could not get rid of the sense he was still behind bars. 

“I feel like I have jet lag. I have no idea about anything. I am sure it is because we [prisoners] never prepare ourselves for when we leave prison,” he said. 

“It all happened because there was this absurd judicial process. There was a sentiment against an American brand and there was a game behind my case.” 

The first edition of Indonesian Playboy was published in April 2006. Despite displaying no nudity, for which the publication is famous overseas, it was still greeted with a spate of vandalism and violent protests by conservative religious groups, among them the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI). 

The hard-liners pressed for charges of public indecency against Erwin in 2007, which state prosecutors decided to pursue. But he was acquitted by the South Jakarta District Court, which ruled that any such allegation should be dealt with through the Press Law and not the Criminal Code. 

Then in 2009, the Supreme Court controversially overturned Erwin’s acquittal and sentenced him to two years in jail for distributing pictures that offended common decency. But it was only in September that he was sent a letter notifying him of his impending incarceration. 

“Oddly enough, on the same day that I received the letter, the press council found other information on the Supreme Court’s Web site indicating that I was not proven guilty,” he said. 

When queried, the prosecutor told him that the ruling contained in the letter was correct. 

“I feel that I was treated unfairly and I am sure that my case was politicized by a group and they used the religious issue to fight against me,” Erwin said, though he declined to name the group. 

“There are many other adult magazines that still can produce their magazine freely. 

“Honestly, if you want to compare Playboy and those other adult magazines, you can tell which one is presenting erotic content. 

“It is very important that authorities judge a publication’s content rather than the publication’s brand, because it is obvious that there is discrimination, a negative sentiment, against American brands,” he explained. 

He said the reason that he took on the role of editor of the Indonesian edition of Playboy was because he wanted to present quality articles for adult male readers. 

He said the magazine also published contributions from the Pantau Foundation, a literary organization. 

“I can tell you that we did not write articles about dildos or how a man can get a girl in a bar or whatever else, like the other adult magazines do,” he said. 

Erwin said he had made use of his more than eight months in jail to write three books, and screenplays for three films. 

“My first book is ‘Midnite di Negeri Nonsens’ [‘Midnight in a Nonsense Country’], which will hopefully be published in the next few months. It is a testimony of my time in the Cipinang Prison,” he said.

“Another book, about religious tolerance, I also plan to turn into a film. The last book will be released in the US,” he said, declining to give details on that work or the screenplays. 

Erwin said he also planned to continue to publish a bilingual cultural magazine in Bali, which was launched in May. 

Predominantly Hindu Bali became the home of Indonesia Playboy after violence forced the closure of its Jakarta office.

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