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Journalist arrested on criminal defamation charges

(AJI/IFEX) - AJI has condemned journalist Risang Bima Wijaya's detention without a warrant by the Bangkalan Resort Police on 9 December 2007 and his arrest by the Sleman Prosecutors' Office in Yogyakarta the next day.

Risang was convicted of defamation by the Sleman District Court in Yogyakarta and sentenced to nine months in prison on 22 December 2004. He has been in hiding since his appeals to the Yogyakarta High Court and the Supreme Court were rejected. The latter reduced his jail term to six months.

Risang is the former general manager of "Radar Yogya" daily. In May 2002, he reported that Sumadi M. Wonohito, executive director of "Kedaulatan Rakyat" ("People's Sovereignty") daily in Yogyakarta, had allegedly sexually harassed a female employee.

Risang had based his report on a police report and a press conference by the victim. The contents of the police report were also published by other newspapers, such as "Adil Tabloid" ("Just Tabloid") and "Nyata Tabloid" ("Truth Tabloid"). Risang's story was accompanied by sidebars and a chronology of the legal case, illustrated with caricatures. Following the publication of the story, Sumadi lodged a police report against Risang for defamation.

Concerned by Risang's detention, which was carried out without an official warrant, AJI questioned the Sleman Prosecutors' Office persistence in going after Risang when there are many other important cases awaiting its attention. AJI suspected that the action was a ''special message'' from the plaintiff, Sumadi, despite the fact that the case could be solved through the mechanism of the right to reply and mediated by the Press Council.

Ironically, Risang was detained amid the anniversary of World Human Rights Day on 10 December, AJI noted in an 11 December statement.

AJI reiterated its position that any effort to prosecute and jail journalists violates general human rights principles, which have been adopted by Indonesia and are reflected in its legal system.

"The criminalisation of the press is a serious threat against press freedom, while the imprisonment of journalists must be condemned because it is characteristic of an authoritarian and undemocratic state," AJI said.

Such actions will eventually rob the people's right to public information, which has been guaranteed by the Constitution, AJI added.

AJI urged all parties to prioritise the right to reply mechanism to resolve press-related disputes, as provided for by the 1999 Press Law, before resorting to legal action and the Criminal Code.

"AJI invites the Press Council and the press community in Indonesia to fight against the criminalisation of the press and the imprisonment of journalists," the organisation said.

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