Sitok Srengenge, Indonesian poet accused of sexual abuse, dropped from Singapore Writers Festival

Indonesian poet Sitok Srengenge is accused of impregnating a 22-year-old student and assaulting her several times in March 2013, according to an Indonesian newspaper report.
Indonesian poet Sitok Srengenge is accused of impregnating a 22-year-old student and assaulting her several times in March 2013, according to an Indonesian newspaper report.PHOTO: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/CRISCO 1492

SINGAPORE - Indonesian poet Sitok Srengenge has been dropped from the line-up of this year's Singapore Writers Festival, after allegations of his past sexual abuse were resurfaced in an open letter to the festival by Indonesian artists.

Festival director Yeow Kai Chai said that the festival had done so, after reviewing concerns raised and following discussions with Srengenge and its programming partner, The Arts House.

Srengenge, 50, was slated to give a poetry talk on Oct 31. His name was removed from the festival's website last Friday morning.

Along with other Indonesian writers, he had originally been part of 17,000 Islands Dreaming, a programme curated by The Arts House focusing on Indonesia's literary history. Srengenge is a published author, actor, and playwright, who has been invited to literary festivals and writers' workshops in countries such as the United States and the Netherlands.

His removal came shortly after the letter, signed by 133 members of the Indonesian public including artists, women's rights activists and university students, was published online.

It referred to allegations that Srengenge had sexually abused a student from the University of Indonesia (UI), and noted that the case was "now still in progress pending to court".

Srengenge now faces charges of indecent conduct, crimes against decency and obscenity. He is accused of impregnating a 22-year-old UI student and assaulting her several times in March 2013, according to an October 2014 report by Indonesian daily The Jakarta Post.

Two other women have also stepped forward with similar claims.

Allowing Srengenge to remain in the programme, the letter said, would fly in the face of "human rights, justice and equality of the sexes within literature".

"We implore you to withdraw Sitok Srengenge... as a gesture of solidarity to a movement of eradicating banality of sexual violence in Indonesia," it said.

Mr Yeow did not respond when asked by The Straits Times if Srengenge's removal would affect programming, or if the festival would scrutinise invited speakers more carefully in future.

The Singapore Writers Festival: Island Of Dreams runs from Oct 30 to Nov 8. For more information, go to www.singaporewritersfestival.com.