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Lifestyles of the rich and convicted

The president reignites the practice of banning books. Banned Indonesian tycoon James Riady slips back into the U.S, reportedly with Hillary Clinton's help. Sri Mulyani defends her decision to bail out Bank Century. Press on the swank living conditions of wealthy prisoners causes an uproar. Indonesia seeks to delay the China-ASEAN free trade pact. And Aceh's Sharia police allegedly gang rape a girl.

Top News: The government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has reignited the practice of banning books, films and other forms of free speech at a level not seen since before the overthrow of longtime authoritarian ruler, Suharto. The attorney general’s office banned five books that it said could disrupt the nation’s security with subjects that tended toward political, including a book about the controversial days surrounding Suharto’s ascendance to the presidency. Another one of the banned books discussed Indonesia’s religious diversity.


Although the attorney general declared rather proudly that his office has the sole authority to ban books, it didn’t stop the minister of justice and human rights (yes, that’s right) from suggesting another 20 or so that should be added to the list.


The banning of books, together with the recent ban of Balibo, a film about the killing of five Australian journalists by the Indonesian military in East Timor in the 1970s, has the country questioning Yudhoyono’s commitment to free speech.


Indonesian tycoon James Riady, long barred from entering the United States, has managed to slip back in. Riady had been kept out by the Bush administration for eight years after pleading guilty to charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States in connection with illegal donations he made to the Clinton campaign.


But last year, the devout Christian managed to return for a visit to Oachita Baptist University in Arkansas, where he was once awarded an honorary degree. Riady’s ties to the Clintons have long been considered a potential problem for Hillary Clinton, especially when she became Secretary of State. A Washington Post story now suggests Riady got permission to enter the United States because of Hillary Clinton’s influence .


The Indonesian public also erupted in anger earlier this month when the press revealed swank living conditions for wealthy prisoners in Indonesian jails. Wealthy business people serving time for corruption were shown enjoying flat screen televisions, karaoke and other perks. Though everyone already knew the practice existed, Yudhoyono’s recently formed team in charge of judicial reform clamped down on the corrupt prison wardens – forcing the likes of Artalyta Suryani, a wealthy socialite and lobbyist sentenced to five years in prison for bribery, to give up access to her apartment-like room with kitchen and en suite bathroom, double bed, couch, air-conditioning, flat screen television and domestic staff, which included a beautician.


Money: Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani went before parliament Jan. 13 to defend her decision to spend more than $700 million to bail out the troubled, and corrupt, Bank Century during the height of the global financial crisis. Though Mulyani was roundly applauded for her performance during the 10-hour session, fears have grown that the celebrated reformer could be forced to resign over the scandal. Economists say that the ousting of Mulyani would have a disastrous impact on the Indonesian economy and likely scare away foreign investors.


The Jakarta Post reported Jan. 18, citing unnamed sources, that the president had struck a deal with Aburizal Bakrie, the Indonesian billionaire who has long been at odds with Mulyani, to replace her in February. Both Yudhoyono and Bakrie denied the report the following day.


Indonesia has sought to delay a free trade agreement signed between ASEAN and China that went into effect Jan. 1. The agreement creates the largest trade block outside the North American Free Trade Area and the European Free Trade Zone. But Indonesia, fearing big losses from an influx of cheap Chinese imports among sensitive industries like textiles and steel, has asked ASEAN leaders to consider delaying the lifting of some tariffs.


Elsewhere: Sharia-style bylaws continue to cause controversy around the country and feminist groups are protesting the arrest of six women on New Year’s Eve who were charged with “sexy dancing” under the national anti-pornography law passed in 2008. The law prohibits public displays of flesh and behavior that could incite lust. The bill originally sparked protests from Indonesians who saw it as a threat to their freedoms. With the support of Islamic political parties, however, parliament passed a watered-down version of the bill, which has rarely been enforced since its passage.


Aceh has long been in the news for its Sharia-based laws. A law passed by the provincial parliament in October of last year created harsh punishments such as stoning for adulterers and homosexuals. Then legislation passed in eastern Aceh requires women to wear long, drab skirts instead of tight jeans.


Aceh’s Sharia police force has been tasked with ensuring these new laws are followed and can regularly be seen breaking up couples around the country’s westernmost province. Their credibility, however, was obliterated after three Sharia police officers allegedly gang raped a young girl they had arrested for sitting on the side of the road with her boyfriend. The Aceh police are investigating.