SEAPA Protest Statement on Libel Suits against Journalists of Tempo Magazine

16 August 2004
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)-an alliance of free press advocates across the region-is gravely troubled by the Indonesian government’s seeming indifference to international calls demanding the reform of Indonesia’s Criminal Defamation laws.

Her Excellency Megawati Sukanoputri

President of Republic of Indonesia
Office of the President
Bina Graha, Jalan Veteran No. 1
Jakarta Pusat, Indonesia
Via facsimile: 62-21-5268726

Your Excellency,

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)-an alliance of free press advocates across the region-is gravely troubled by the Indonesian government’s seeming indifference to international calls demanding the reform of Indonesia’s Criminal Defamation laws.

These laws are increasingly being wielded to silence critics of officials and public figures in Indonesia. Journalists are particularly being targeted. No less than 20 Indonesian journalists and human rights advocates have been victimized by this repressive law, under your Excellency’s presidency alone.

On August 16, two editors and a reporter of Tempo magazine are appearing in Central Jakarta District Court to defend themselves against lawsuits filed by well-known businessman Tomy Winata over an article published on 3-9 March 2003.

The article titled, “Is Tomy in Tanah Abang?” supposedly suggests that Tomy stands to gain from a factory fire in February 2003. For this, Chief Editor Bambang Harymurti, Editor Teuku Islandar Ali and reporter Ahmad Taufik are facing three charges under Indonesia’s Criminal Code for publishing false information, provoking social discord, and defamation. If found guilty, the accused journalists could be sentenced for up to 14 years in prison.

Such threats are unconscionable in any society that purports to value freedom of expression and of the press.
Even as SEAPA urges the Indonesian courts to ensure a fair trial for the Tempo journalists, we remain more seriously concerned by the official criminalisation of defamation in Indonesia, and the excessive penalties-imprisonment and crippling fines among them-that come with such criminalization.

We are also dismayed by the refusal of Indonesian leaders to recognize the chilling effect this has on the Indonesian press, a pillar and guardian of Indonesian democracy. Clearly, Winata himself-a public figure-has repeatedly used the very threat of defamation suits to escape public scrutiny and to silence critics and the press in general.

SEAPA implores Your Excellency to stop the attacks on the media and to ensure that your own laws do not run against Indonesia’s hard-won press freedom.

SEAPA joins other international groups in calling for the repeal of this antiquated criminal defamation law. Civil defamation laws, not criminal courts, should settle any issue that involves challenging the accuracy, fairness, truthfulness, and responsibility of the press fairly and properly.

Thank you very much for your attention. We pray for your timely and enlightened response to protecting and strengthening democracy in Indonesia.

Sincerely,

Kavi Chongkittavorn
Chairman

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