Court delays verdict on ‘Tempo’

Source: Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), New York

Jakarta court delays Tempo verdict as international observers crowd courtroom

Under intense scrutiny from the international media and press advocates from around the world, a court yesterday delayed its verdict in a criminal defamation case widely seen as a grave threat to press freedom in Indonesia.

No official reason was given for delaying a verdict in the trial of Tempo editor Bambang Harymurti, who faces 10 years in prison on charges of defamation and spreading false information that provoked social discord. The case has attracted intense international attention, and advocates showed up in force for yesterday’s hearing.

Led by the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), a delegation of media advocates from Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Hong Kong decried the prosecution and expressed solidarity with their Indonesian counterparts. Free press advocates from Asia, Australia, Europe, and the United States called for Harymurti’s acquittal, and for the decriminalization of defamation in Indonesia.

More than 100 Indonesian and international journalists jammed the courtroom as the three-judge panel announced it would delay its verdict. The judges postponed the case to September 16, just four days before the presidential runoff. Two co-defendants – Tempo reporter Ahmad Taufik and editor Teuku Iskandar Ali – were already scheduled to appear in court again Sept. 16.

In a joint statement, CPJ and SEAPA expressed disappointment that Harymurti was not acquitted immediately, and said the case has broad implications that will be watched around the world.

“The charges against Harymurti and his colleagues are ultimately about the chilling effect that criminal defamation laws have on the press,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “The criminalization of libel and defamation is an outdated practice that is being rescinded in true
democracies all over the world. In this light, the Indonesian courts should acquit Harymurti and set a precedent by which defamation in Indonesia will ultimately be decriminalized.”

The criminal case stems from a March 2003 article in Tempo citing allegations that businessman Tomy Winata may have stood to profit from a Jakarta textile market fire. Winata, who has denied any tie to the fire, filed several criminal and civil complaints against the Tempo journalists.

In a meeting with CPJ, SEAPA, and Indonesian supporters on Sunday, Harymurti said: “I want to remain hopeful and optimistic. We are hoping that this case could do for Indonesia what The New York Times vs. Sullivan did for free expression in the United States.”

SEAPA Executive Director Roby Alampay said journalists throughout Southeast Asia are closely monitoring the case, aware that its resolution could affect the handling of similar cases in their countries. In Thailand, for example, journalists are monitoring a criminal defamation case against activist Supinya Klangnarong. In a published article, Klangnarong said media giant Shin Corp., a company partly owned by the family of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, has benefited from the Thai leader’s term in office.

“Journalists from Thailand, the Philippines, and Malaysia have traveled to Indonesia to show their solidarity with their Indonesian colleagues and to stress that the free press cause knows no boundaries,” Alampay said.

Joining CPJ and SEAPA in their delegation to Jakarta were: Melinda Quintos de Jesus, executive director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility; Teodoro Locsin Jr., member of the Philippine House of Representatives and publisher-on-leave of the Manila daily Today; Carlos
Conde, secretary general of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines; Kavi Chongkittavorn, assistant group editor of The Nation; Veera Pratipchaikul, deputy executive editor of Bangkok Post; and Steven Gan, editor of Kuala Lumpur’s leading alternative news outlet, Malaysiakini.com.

CPJ was represented by Lin Neumann, its former Asia program coordinator and now executive editor of the Hong Kong Standard.

CPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information, visit http://www.cpj.org.

For further information, contact Asia Program Coordinator Abi Wright (x140) or Research Associate Kristin Jones at CPJ, 330 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10001, U.S.A., tel: +1 212 465 1004, fax: +1 212 465 9568, e-mail: asiaprogram@cpj.org, awright@cpj.org, Internet: http://www.cpj.org/

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Source: Jakarta Post
Sept 7, 2004

The Central Jakarta District Court postponed its much-awaited verdict in the libel case against Tempo chief editor Bambang Harymurti. “We will deliver the verdict on Sept. 16 together with the verdicts on the other defendants, Ahmad Taufik and Teuku Iskandar Ali,” said presiding judge Soeripto.

The judges then immediately left the courtroom to boos and yells of “Free (Bambang)!” from the visitors’ gallery.

Before announcing the postponement, the panel of judges had separately heard the final defense submissions by Tempo journalists Taufik and Ali.

In a controversial sidelining of the country’s Press Law, prosecutors have charged Bambang — along with Taufik and Ali — of violating the criminal law by “inciting public unrest” and defaming well-connected businessman Tomy Winata in an article titled ‘Is Tomy in Tenabang?’.

The article, which was run in the weekly’s March 3-9, 2003, edition, implied that Tomy was involved in the fire that gutted the Tanah Abang textile market on Feb. 19, 2003.

The prosecution has demanded a two year jail term for each of the defendants, with an additional request for Bambang’s immediate arrest following the verdict.

Tempo lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis said after the trial that the delay might be because the judges needed more time to arrive at their decision. “But I don’t want to presume that there has been pressure put on the judges, although I admit that the verdict will be seen as decisive as regards press freedom in this country.”

Todung expressed the hope that even if the judges reached an unfavorable decision on his clients, at least one of them would enter a dissenting opinion.

Hundreds of supporters of press freedom had packed the Central Jakarta District Court since the session started at 10 a.m., causing serious traffic congestion on Jl. Gajah Mada. They wore black shirts reading bearing the inscriptions, “Don’t put journalists in jail” and “Press freedom for the community”, and black headband bearing the slogan “Free Press”.

In his final defense statement, Taufik asked the judges to release him on the grounds that the prosecution had failed to prove its charges and that the main witnesses had committed perjury.
“My only ‘crime’ in this case is that I refused to disclose my sources to those irked by the article,” he said. Taufik argued that Article 5 of Law No. 40/1999 on the press stipulates that a journalist has the right to withhold the identity of his sources.

He further asked the judges to impose a just sentence on him if they found him guilty.
“Please do not imprison me. I already know what it’s like to be in jail. Please do not fine me as well, as I cannot afford it,” said the 39-year-old journalist, who was imprisoned under the Soeharto regime for publishing the underground Independen tabloid, following the shut down of Tempo in 1994.

Similarly, Iskandar also rejected all of the prosecution’s allegations and asked the judges to acquit him. “Even Anwar Ibrahim was acquitted by the court in a country that many consider to be more repressive,” he said.

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