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Supreme Court orders "Time Asia" to pay former dictator exorbitant damages

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is stunned by the 10 September 2007 supreme court ruling ordering "Time Asia" to pay former President Suharto 1 billion rupees (US$106 million) in damages for a 1999 cover story accusing him of corruption. A spokesman for the court said it concluded that the story in "Times'"Asia edition had damaged the former dictator's "reputation and honour."

"You would think we were back in the Suharto era when the press was gagged as soon as it alluded to corruption and nepotism in the dictator's family," the press freedom organisation said. "The Indonesian judicial system must think again, and overturn this ridiculous ruling. Instead of convicting a foreign magazine, the country's supreme court judges should step up efforts to get the Suharto family to return the billions it wrongfully took."

On 11 September, "Time Asia"'s Indonesian lawyer, Todung Mulya Lubis, said he would try to get the ruling overturned. A spokesman for the supreme court meanwhile confirmed to foreign journalists that the 10 September verdict overturned decisions by lower courts in 2000 and 2001 in "Time Asia"'s favour. The supreme court, which is Indonesia's highest court, also ordered six "Time Asia" employees to issue apologies for publication in Indonesian magazines and "Time"'s international editions.

"Time"'s management told Reporters Without Borders on 11 September that it could not for the time being make any comment since it had not yet received any legal notification of the ruling. Suharto's lawyer hailed the "surprise verdict."

Suharto brought his libel suit against the magazine in 1999, demanding the equivalent of US$27 billion in damages (at the 1999 exchange rate) because of an article published after the fall of his regime claiming that he and has family had embezzled some US$73 billion during his 32 years in power. The allegations included the claim that part of the embezzled funds had recently been moved from Switzerland to Austria.

The supreme court's judges include a retired general who was in active service under Suharto. The former dictator has never been convicted of embezzlement although the attorney general began an investigation into the disappearance of US$1.5 billion.

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