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Court verdict due on defamation trial of two East Timorese journalists

(SEAPA/IFEX) - On 28 February 2013, two journalists attended a final court hearing on a criminal defamation trial for writing articles alleging bribery of a state prosecutor.

The journalists, Raimundo Oki of the Independente and Oscar Maria Salsinha of the Suara Timor Loros'e - faced these accusations for writing separate articles about a district prosecutor in Oecuse district being suspected of receiving a bribe.

Oki and Salsinha faced charges of violating the Timor Leste Penal Code article 285 criminalizing 'slanderous denunciations', which carries a penalty of three years imprisonment or compensation to the victim.

The Dili district court is due to deliver a verdict on the case in two weeks or on 14 March.

The case chronology read by the judge accused Oki and Salsinha of writing about a district prosecutor's malpractice, which was allegedly not based on facts and has damaged his integrity.

Both journalists have countered that the news item was based on facts obtained from a news source.

The articles were published by the Independente on 2 February 2012 and by the Suara Timor Lorosa'e on 30 December 2011. These are the two biggest newspapers in Timor Leste.

The Timor Leste Journalist Association (TLJA) supported the two journalists, saying that they found these news stories to be "balanced".

In a statement, the TLJA said that "the absence of a press law for Timor Leste has led to the use of the penal code to settle disputes in media reporting, which can endanger press freedom".

SEAPA executive director Gayathry Venkiteswaran meanwhile added that "journalists should not be criminalized for doing their work".

"Criminal defamation, and its use against journalists, is a problem faced not only in Timor Leste, but also in the entire Southeast Asian region," Gayathry added.

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