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Journalist charged with defamation; AJI concerned new law may silence press by way of jail terms and heavy fines

(AJI/IFEX) - AJI is deeply concerned that a recent law on the electronic media might pose a threat to press freedom in Indonesia.

The concern came after the recent filing of defamation charges against journalist Narliswandi Piliang by legislator Alvin Lie over Narliswandi's article entitled, "Behind Adaro Co.'s Lobbying in Parliament", which was published in the Pembaca Kompas Kompas Readers' Forum mailing list. If convicted, the journalist could face up to six years in prison and a fine of Rp 1 billion (approx. US$110,000).

In addition to the defamation charge, Narliswandi was also charged with violations under Article 27, point 3, and Article 45, point 1, of Law Number 11 (Year 2008) on Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE).

AJI and several media groups said that this new law has the potential to silence the press through its defamation articles, which are accompanied by jail terms and fines that are heavier than those stipulated in the Criminal Code.

AJI, along with the Legal Aid Institute for the Press (LBH Pers), Indonesian Legal and Human Rights Aid (PBHI) and others are currently preparing a judicial review of the ITE Law due to what they claim are its numerous weaknesses.

On 4 September, the police also summoned Agus Hamonangan, the moderator of the Pembaca Kompas Kompas Readers' Forum mailing list, to answer questions about Narliswandi's article.

AJI, a founding member of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), said that although Agus remains a witness in the case, he could also be implicated under the ITE Law.

Narliswandi's article alleged that a coal mining company, PT Adaro, bribed the National Mandate Party (PAN) through Lie to influence an investigation into the company's initial public offering of shares.

The ITE Law was adopted soon after the passage of the Law on the Openness of Public Information. Prior to this, the Press Council appealed directly to the president of Indonesia to refrain from signing the bill into law.

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