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Columnist on trial for allegedly insulting Attorney General's Office

(AJI/IFEX) - AJI has called on the authorities to drop a criminal case against Bersihar Lubis, a columnist for the "Koran Tempo" daily, who has been on trial since 19 September 2007 for allegedly insulting the Attorney General's Office (AGO).

In a 17 March article, entitled "The Story of a Dumb Interrogator", Bersihar criticised the AGO's ban of a high school history textbook, likening it to the 1981 ban on "The Earth of Mankind" and "Children of All Nations", two books by an internationally renowned author, the late Pramoedya Ananta Toer.

Bersihar is being tried at the Depok District Court in West Java, under articles 207 and 316 connected with article 310 of the Criminal Code, for crimes against the authorities. If convicted, he faces a maximum jail term of one year and a half for the first charge, and one year and four months for the second. His trial was scheduled to end on 12 December.

Bersihar quoted the word ''dumb'' from a statement made by publisher Joesoef Isak in Paris, on Indonesian Literature Day in October 2004. Recounting Joesoef's questioning at the AGO in 1981 for publishing the two novels by Pramoedya despite the then-existent ban, Bersihar wrote that Joesoef had asked his interrogators to organise a symposium of experts to objectively discuss the author's writings. Rejecting the request, the interrogators said that they, more than any expert, could discern that the two books were the products of Marxist literature. When challenged to point out which parts of the novels contained Marxist doctrines, the AGO could not, which led Joesoef to call them ''dumb''.

Expressing full support for Bersihar, AJI said in a 5 December statement that the columnist's prosecution has "damaged the spirit of democracy and the principle of a state of law, [both of] which protect human rights. Government officials and state administrators should be more tolerant of criticism, particularly if it is voiced through the media. Such prosecution seriously impinges on freedoms of expression, speech and the press".

Freedom of expression in Indonesia is guaranteed by articles 28 E and 28 F of the 1945 Constitution (second amendment) and Law No. 39, Year 1999 on Human Rights, as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Indonesia ratified through Law No. 12, Year 2005.

AJI added that the provision for crimes against the authorities needs to be realigned with the Constitutional Court's considerations in 2006, in revoking articles 134, 136 and 137 of the Criminal Code, which criminalised insults against the president and vice-president. Article 207 of the Criminal Code is similar to the revoked articles in potentially interpreting a protest, opinion and thought as criticism or insult, and in potentially harming freedom of expression through words, writings and other forms.

AJI has urged the government and the House of Representatives to review the Criminal Code and ensure that it is respectful of human rights principles.

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