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Journalists present Constitutional Court with petition to decriminalise defamation offences

(AJI/IFEX) - On 15 August 2008, Indonesia's Constitutional Court will decide on a petition led by journalists Risang Bima Wijaya and Bersihar Lubis to abolish Penal Code provisions that criminalise insult and defamation.

Articles 310 (1), (2) and 311 (1) allow for prison terms of nine months, 16 months and four years, respectively, for those found guilty of insult and defamation, while articles 316 and 207 increase the terms by a third when the offence is committed against government officers.

The Legal Aid Centre for the Press filed the application on behalf of the two journalists on 7 May 2008, arguing that the first three provisions violate constitutional guarantees to freedom of expression and information, as found in articles 28E (2), (3), 28F, and 28G of the Constitution, as well as Law No 39 Concerning Human Rights, while the latter two Penal Code articles additionally violate the principle of the equality before the law, which is guaranteed under Article 27 (1).

AJI, the Press Council, the Indonesian Journalists Association, and the Indonesian Television Journalists Association also support the petition.

A legacy of the former Dutch colonialists, the Penal Code provisions in question are now being used to threaten critical media outlets and journalists, media advocates have noted, creating a climate of fear and self-censorship among journalists to the detriment of the public interest.

One direct victim, Risang, editor of the "Radar Yogya" daily newspaper, served six months in prison after he was found guilty of insulting "Kedaulatan Rakyat" newspaper director Sumadi M. Wonohito in a 2002 article that alleged sexual harassment on the latter's part.

Bersihar, a columnist with the "Koran Tempo" daily, received a suspended prison term of one month for his article, which criticised the Attorney General's Office for banning a history textbook.

Updates the Bersihar Lubis case:

For further information on the Risang Bima Wijaya case, see:

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