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Journalist released after serving six-month prison term for defamation; AJI calls for an end to criminalisation of press offences

(AJI/IFEX) - The following is an AJI press release:


AJI is grateful to hear of the release of Risang Bima Wijaya, journalist and former general manager of "Radar Yogya" daily newspaper, from the Cebongan Penitentiary Institution in Sleman. For six months, the journalist has been separated from his family and his profession and confined to a small room. He was imprisoned not for blackmailing, robbing or raping; he merely wrote a news story that offended someone.

Wijaya was arrested in January 2008 and sent to jail for six months following a ruling of the Supreme Court over a defamation case brought against him by Sumadi M Wonohito, the general manager of "Kedaulatan Rakyat Daily" in Yogyakarta.

The case stemmed from an allegation of sexual harassment brought against Wonohito by a female employee of his newspaper in 2002. Wijaya wrote about the case in a series of stories in "Radar Yogya". Dissatisfied with these reports, Wonohito brought charges against Wijaya under a criminal code article on "insulting by writing" (Article 310 of the Criminal Code), and filed a lawsuit against "Radar Yogya" in a civil court. The Yogyakarta District Court and the Supreme Court both ruled that Wijaya was guilty and sentenced him to six months in jail.

Wijaya's imprisonment flies in the face of Indonesia's post-reform press history. Since 1999, Indonesia has had Law Number 40 on the Press, which guarantees press freedom (Article 4) and encourages the professionalism of journalists (Article 5). Threatening and sending journalists to jail over their reporting constitutes a threat to press freedom. The wrongfulness of Wijaya's imprisonment has also attracted the attention of international press organizations, including the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in Brussels, Belgium.

On the day of Wijaya's release, AJI issued the following statements:

1. AJI opposes efforts to criminalize press activities (reports) and the profession of journalism. AJI reminds the public and all public institutions, from the police to public prosecutors, to be more careful in dealing with press-related cases, always to refer to the Law Number 40 on the Press, and to involve the Press Council in their efforts to resolve disputes.

2. AJI urges that the imprisonment of Wijaya be the last case in which a journalist is sent to jail for his or her reporting. AJI supports law enforcement against journalists who are found guilty of committing crimes such as blackmailing, cheating, robbing, raping and killing. However, AJI opposes sending journalists to jail for their reporting.

3. Press Law Number 40 outlines mechanisms for resolving press-related disputes, such as the right to deny, the right to make corrections, and the right to file complaints with the Press Council. The Press Council is an internal judicial institution for the press, which issues rulings on ethical and professional violations by journalists, precluding the need to take press-related cases to the courts.

4. AJI highlights Wijaya's imprisonment as a warning to every journalist to defend press freedom, which has been guaranteed by the law. AJI calls on journalists to improve their professionalism and to obey journalistic ethics. Any violation against the journalistic code of ethics can degrade the quality of reporting and undermine the press freedom we have been fighting for.

Updates the Wijaya case:

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