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Human rights lawyer who championed free expression disbarred over questionable charges

(SEAPA/IFEX) - The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) is deeply troubled and dismayed by the disbarment in Indonesia of prominent human rights lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis, and calls on the Indonesian bar association to favourably consider an appeal filed to lift the revocation of Mr. Lubis' license.

Todung Mulya Lubis, one of Indonesia's most prominent human-rights advocates, was disbarred on 16 May 2008 over conflict of interest charges filed by another Indonesian lawyer. The controversial disbarment has caused a split in the national bar association and Mr. Lubis has now filed an appeal under the new bar group.

If the disbarment stands, it would deprive Indonesia of one of its strongest legal campaigners against corruption and a leading legal advocate for human rights, free expression and press freedom. Mr. Lubis has defended rights activists and journalists, and most recently has been in the limelight as legal counsel for "Time" magazine in a defamation suit brought against the magazine by former Indonesian strongman Suharto over stories it had published documenting corruption in the Suharto government. Suharto died in January, but not before being awarded US$106 million in damages by Indonesia's Supreme Court. The case is under appeal by "Time".

The disbarment of Lubis stems from his work for the Indonesia Bank Restructuring Agency auditing companies hard hit by the financial crisis of 1997/98. Under the terms of that audit, Mr. Lubis was prohibited from representing, until 2004, companies covered by the audit.

In 2006, two years after the lapsing of the provision against conflict-of-interest, Mr. Lubis' firm represented one such company covered by the audit, Indonesia's Salim Group, in a civil lawsuit. Though it came two years later and though Indonesia's Department of Finance had certified that there was no conflict in the engagement, lawyer Hotman Paris Hutapea called Lubis' representation of the Salim Group a breach of ethics and a violation of the terms of the audit.

The International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) has expressed concerns that the subsequent decision by Indonesia's bar association (PERADI, or Dewan Kehormatan Daerah DKI Jakarta Perhimpurum Advocat Indonesia) "may be based on considerations other than the merits of that claim." In a letter to PERADI on 16 June 2008, IBAHRI added: "Reports further indicate that the decision could have been taken in retaliation against Mr Lubis as a result of his prominent role in a number of human rights cases in Indonesia."

SEAPA, a coalition of free expression and press freedom advocacy groups from the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia, calls for the immediate reversal of Todung Mulya Lubis' disbarment and the reinstatement of an important human rights defender for all Indonesians. Unless justice is served and Mr. Lubis is allowed to continue his distinguished and fearless practice, it will be the Indonesian people who will stand with the most to lose.

For further information on the "Time" magazine case, see:

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