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"Time" magazine cleared of defaming Suharto

The Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) and the Southeast Asian Press Association (SEAPA) welcomed the "landmark ruling" last week of the Indonesian Supreme Court in favour of "Time" magazine in a US$106-million defamation suit filed by former President Suharto.

On 16 April, the court overturned its earlier ruling that "Time" had defamed Suharto in a May 1999 article alleging he and his family had amassed billions through corruption. The article said a four-month investigation in 11 countries had traced some US$15 billion in wealth accumulated by Suharto and his six children.

One of the judges said, "Everyone has the right to hold opinion, including different views with others. Therefore, the media in performing their function could possibly (express contrary opinions). That is the manifestation of democracy and openness."

The ruling marked the end of the appeals process.

The former dictator, who died last year, had been accused of widespread rights abuses and corruption during his 32-year reign but had never been brought to trial.

AJI, which campaigned tirelessly for an appeal, said the verdict "should be made as an example for law enforcement, particularly judges, in handing down verdicts involving the press."

Indonesia has a long history of using large defamation suits to silence critics.

A US$920,800 civil defamation suit and criminal defamation charges have been filed against media advocate Jupriadi "Upi" Asmaradhana for criticising a local police chief. He faces up to four years in jail if found guilty.

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