The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the global organisation representing more than 500,000 journalists worldwide, today launched a global campaign over threats to imprison journalists in Indonesia where draconian defamation laws mean journalists can be tried under both criminal and civil law.
“‘Don’t jail journalists’ is the message that we are sending to the Government of Indonesia today,” said IFJ President Christopher Warren. “IFJ affiliates around the world are speaking with one voice on this demand.”
The campaign is launched as three journalists are due to appear in a Jakarta court charged with defamation under criminal procedures and with the threat of jail hanging over them.
“Indonesia must recognise that defamation is a civil, not a criminal matter,” said Warren. “It is completely inappropriate to send journalists to jail for defamation. If these cases must be brought, they should only be heard under civil jurisdiction.”
Bambang Harymurti, T. Iskandar Ali and Ahmad Taufik are defending themselves against a defamation action brought by businessman Tomy Winata over an article published in Tempo magazine in March last year that aired allegations Winata stood to benefit from a fire in a textile market.
The journalists face up to four years jail each if found guilty. Prosecutors are arguing for a two-year term each. The IFJ has flown in two international legal observers – one from Australia and one from Sri Lanka - to oversee the proceedings in court today.
IFJ member organisations in Europe, North America and other regional centres are calling on Indonesia to remove defamation as a criminal offence and to restrict financial damages in civil defamation cases. At the same time, the IFJ is calling for removal of the crime of “insulting the President or Vice-President” from the criminal code.
Journalists’ organisations in Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, the Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, New Zealand, Australia, Cyprus, Germany, Greece, the United Kingdom and the United States delivered letters of protest to the Indonesian embassies. In Brussels the IFJ led a delegation including the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, to a meeting with the Indonesian ambassador to the European Union at which they delivered letters of protest over the trial in Jakarta.
In the letter to the Indonesian President, delivered to the President’s office today by the Aliansi Jurnalis Independen (AJI, the IFJ affiliate in Indonesia), the IFJ says: “The rise of repressive regimes in Indonesia have historically been heralded by a restriction of press freedom, including an over-zealous use of spurious legal avenues to lock up defenders of free speech.”
“The journalists of the world are today calling on your government to act in the interests of genuine freedom of the press in Indonesia and repeal these regressive laws,” the IFJ said.
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries