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Defamation cases obstruct press freedom, shows AJI report

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is an 18 December 2007 IFJ media release:

Defamation Cases Obstruct Press Freedom in Indonesia

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) strongly supports the "Stop Criminalisation of the Press" campaign by its local affiliate, the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), after two incidents involving criminal charges against journalists resurfaced this month.

Risang Bima Wijaya, a journalist and former general manager of Radar Yogya Daily, was detained by Bangkalan Madura Resort police on December 9 and taken to the Sleman prosectuor's office before being taken to Yogyakarta. AJI reports the police did not have a warrant for Wijaya's arrest.

Wijaya is calling for a retrial of a criminal defamation case brought against him in 2004 by the director of Kedaulatan Rakyat Daily, Sumadi M. Wonohito. The case relates to Wijaya's reports about an incident of alleged sexual harassment by Wonohito. Despite many appeals, the Yogyakarta High Court and the Supreme Court upheld the ruling, and Wijaya was sentenced to six months in jail. He has been working for Jawa Pos newspaper while his current appeal is in process.

Meanwhile, a criminal defamation case against Bersihar Lubis, a columnist for the Koran Tempo daily, has been in the courts since September 19. Bersihar is being tried on allegations of insulting the Attorney-General's office in an article published on March 17. The article criticised the office for a ban on a high-school history textbook. Bersihar is being tried under articles 207 and 316, connected with article 310, of the Criminal Code, the legal mechanism for crimes against authorities.

According to a report issued by AJI president Heru Hendratmoko to mark World Press Freedom Day this year, legal charges and lawsuits against media workers in Indonesia can come under two separate and often contradictory laws. The first is the Criminal Code, which contains articles about libel, defamation against the head of state, insult against religion or assault of chastity. Articles 311 and 317 relate to defamation and defamation accusations.

In contrast, Article 6 of the civil Press Law 40/1999 stipulates that journalistic reports may fulfill the public's right to know; develop public opinion based on factual, accurate and valid information; control conduct, provide criticism, correction, and suggestion towards any public concern; and fight for justice and truth. In 2005, the Supreme Court's ruling on two defamation cases, verdict MA No.1608 K/PID/2005 and verdict MA no.903 K/PDT/2005, set jurisprudence of the Press Law for the settlement of every media dispute.

The cases of Wijaya and Bersihar indicate, however, that the Supreme Court decision regarding the Press Law has not yet taken hold.

According to the AJI report, Stop Criminalisation of the Press, 41 defamation cases have been filed against media and journalists in various cities from 2003 until April 2007. One of the most controversial cases occurred in September this year when the Supreme Court overruled decisions by the Jakarta District Court and Jakarta High Court to dismiss former president Soeharto's defamation charge against Time magazine.

The Time article, "Soeharto Inc: How Indonesia's Longtime Boss Built a Family Fortune", published on May 24, 1999, alleged that Soeharto had accumulated enormous wealth under dubious circumstances during his long presidency. The Supreme Court decision forced Time to issue an apology and pay Soeharto one trillion rupiah in damages (US$106 million).

"Freedom of the press is guaranteed under Article 28 of Indonesia's 1945 Constitution," the IFJ's Asia-Pacific Director, Jacqueline Park, said.

"The IFJ implores Indonesia's President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, to honour his promise to reform the criminal laws available to prosecute defamation and insult and to ensure that the guidelines set by the Press Law are prioritised in the resolution of cases of defamation."

The IFJ joins the AJI in calling on Indonesia's Government, Press Council and media community to demand, enforce and uphold the formal processes of media-related disputes as a guarantee that media freedom remains among Indonesia's strong democratic values.

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries.

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