Update: Prosecution insists on jail terms for journalists

Raimundos Oki. [Photo from https://raimundosoki.blogspot.com]

The lead prosecutor for Timor Leste Prime Minister Rui Maria Araujo demanded on Wednesday jail terms for two Timor Leste journalists accused of slanderous denunciation over a 2015 news report.

In the final allegations at a court session on 17 May, the lead prosecutor prosecution lawyers on Wednesday called for a one year jail terms for Timor reporter Raimundos Oki and editor Lourencio Martins, with an additional two year suspended sentence for the latter.

The court will deliver its verdict on the case on June 1.

Responding to this latest development, SEAPA expressed concern that the prosecution team insists on a criminal conviction and jail terms for Oki and Martins, despite the measures taken by the newspaper to provide remedy for the prime minister.

Timor Post published a right of reply article by Prime Minister and a clarification of Oki’s report one week after the controversial article about Araujo’s alleged role in recommending the winning bid for the 2014 project to computerise the Ministry of Finance building.

SEAPA executive director Ed Legaspi reiterated the concern about the example being set by the Prime Minister by criminalizing the work of journalists.

“It shows a bad example for other politicians who feel aggrieved by media reports,” Legaspi said.

SEAPA’s Facebook comment said that pursit of the case “discourage[s] the country’s young press to hold powers accountable and fight against corruption” noting that the call for a free press was a hall mark of the country’s struggle for independence and democracy”.

In a report for World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, the Timor Leste Journalist Association noted that the case have cause journalists to resot to “self-censorship when reporting on government related corruption.”

Defamation is no longer a criminal offence under the Timor Leste Penal Code, but the similar offence of “slanderous denunciation” is retained in article 285, and carries a maximum penalty of 3 years imprisonment.