Poet accused of sexual abuse dropped from writers' festival

Author, actor and playwright Sitok Srengenge (above) is accused of impregnating a 22-year-old student and assaulting her in March 2013.
Author, actor and playwright Sitok Srengenge (above) is accused of impregnating a 22-year-old student and assaulting her in March 2013.PHOTO: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/ CRISCO 1492

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

Responding to Life's queries, festival director Yeow Kai Chai said: "After a careful review and discussing the matter with the writer and our programming partner, the SWF withdrew Sitok Srengenge, as his presence would draw attention to the concerns highlighted rather than his writing, overshadowing the original purpose of our invitation."

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

He had originally been part of 17,000 Islands Dreaming, a literary programme curated by The Arts House focusing on Indonesia's history. His withdrawal would not affect the programme, said Mr Yeow. The line-up includes talks by respected poet and critic Goenawan Mohamad and feminist writer Ayu Utami, as well as poetry and translation performances.

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 and noted that the case was "now still in progress pending to court".

Indonesian netizens had also flagged the issue to the Singapore Writers Festival on social media platform Twitter in the past week.

Srengenge now faces charges of indecent conduct, crimes against decency and obscenity.

He is accused of impregnating the 22-year-old UI student and assaulting her several times in March 2013, according to a report in October last year 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.

Srengenge did not respond to a request for comment from Life.

Mr Yeow did not address queries on whether the SWF had known about the case prior to the letter's publication and if it 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.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2015, with the headline 'Poet accused of sexual abuse dropped from writers' festival'. Print Edition | Subscribe