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Journalist sentenced to six months' imprisonment for libel in hiding, sought for arrest

(AJI/IFEX) - On World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 2007, the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) Indonesia received the sad news that the state is seeking the arrest of journalist Risang Bima Wijaya, who has been in hiding following a 2005 Supreme Court ruling rejecting his appeal against a libel verdict handed to him by a lower court.

The Supreme Court sentenced Risang Bima Wijaya, former general manager and editor-in-chief of "Radar Yogya" newspaper, to six months' imprisonment for violating Article 310 of the Indonesian Criminal Code (KUHP) by libelling Sumadi Martono Wonohito, executive director of "Kedaulatan Rakyat" newspaper. It upheld the 22 December 2004 verdict of the District Court of Sleman, Yogyakarta, but reduced the prison term from the maximum nine months' imprisonment.

Risang is now a reporter with the "Jawa Pos" newspaper and seeking a retrial.

In May 2002, he published in "Radar Yogya" articles alleging Sumadi's sexual harassment of a female employee of "Kedaulatan Rakyat". The newspaper used as sources the victim's statements to the police and in a press conference. The police report on the victim's statement was released to various newspapers, such as "Jawa Pos", "Tabloid Adil", "Tabloid Nyata", including "Radar Yogya". The report in "Radar Yogya" also contained a chronology of the case and caricatures for illustration.

The District Court's verdict in 2004 sparked off numerous protests in the press community, which is being clouded by criminalisation of journalistic activities. It is also unfortunate that the expert witness from the Press Council RH Siregar, who is also secretary for the Ethics Assembly of the Indonesian Journalists Association, had said that Risang had transgressed journalistic ethics.

AJI Indonesia hereby:

- rejects every effort to criminalise journalists and the press as incompatible with the spirit of press freedom. Threatening or sending journalists to prison by using the Indonesian Criminal Code (KUHP) is a step backward for press freedom and erodes the public right to information. The use of the Criminal Code to handle disputes related to the press reveals the government's flippancy in protecting press freedom - a concept that has been much promoted by the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono-Jusuf Kalla administration

- criticises the verdict of Supreme Court of Republic of Indonesia in sentencing Risang Bima Wijaya to six months in prison, considering that the journalistic profession is under the protection of the 1999 Press Law and of Article 28F of the 1945 Constitution. AJI urges the Supreme Court and its subordinate courts to stick to the stipulations of the Press Law in handling cases related to news reports and the press

- reminds all parties that if they have a dispute with or an objection to any journalistic work, they should use the right of reply and the right of correction, and make a complaint to the media organisation concerned and/or to the Press Council. Even if journalists are deemed to have violated journalistic ethics, the maximum punishment should be a fine for the press companies concerned, not the imprisonment of journalists

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