IFJ Protests Over Crackdown on Press Freedom in Indonesia

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the global organisation representing over 500,000 journalists worldwide, is deeply concerned the guilty verdict handed down on 27 October against Supratman, editor of the tabloid newspaper Rakyat Merdeka, for publishing headlines which were critical of President Megawati Sukarnoputri, during anti-government protests earlier this year over fuel and utility prices.


The IFJ is concerned that the guilty verdict and the current trend towards treating defamation and libel cases of journalists as criminal offences are having a negative effect on press freedom in Indonesia.


The guilty verdict is the latest setback for the media, which has grown exponentially since the fall of Soeharto in 1998.


The IFJ has protested to the President of Indonesia, Spokesman/Chairman of the People's Consultative Assembly of Indonesia and State Minister for Justice and Human Rights of Indonesia in the following letter:


31 October 2003


President Megawati Soekarnoputri

President of the Republic of Indonesia

Istana Merdeka

Jakarta 10110

Indonesia

Fax: + 62 21 345 2685 (via State Secretariat) / 62 21 526 8726 / 62 21 380 5511 / 62 21 345 7782


Prof. Dr. HM Amien Rais

Spokesman/Chairman of the People's Consultative Assembly of Indonesia

Fax 62-21-5734874


Yusril Ihza Mahendra

State Minister of Justice and Human Rights

Jl Kuningan Timur M 2/5

Jakarta 12950 Indonesia

Fax: + 62 21 5256855


Dear President and Sirs,


The International Federation of Journalists, the global organisation representing over 500,000 journalists worldwide, is deeply concerned over the suspended jail sentence of editor Supratman, of the newspaper, Rakyat Merdeka.


According to our information, on 27 October Supratman, editor of the tabloid newspaper Rakyat Merdeka, was given a suspended six month jail sentence and one year probation, after being found guilty by a Jakarta court for “spreading hatred” after he published headlines critical of your government.


The IFJ believes that this guilty verdict will have a chilling effect on press freedom in Indonesia.


This recent decision seems to be part of a disturbing trend of using defamation and libel cases to restrict press freedom and legitimate comment. Supratman is the second journalist from Rakyat Merdeka to be charged with defamation. According to our information, the news editor of Rakyat Merdeka received a suspended sentence early in September from South Jakarta District Court for publishing a satirical cartoon of parliamentary speaker Akbar Tandjung.


In a separate incident, editors from Tempo, a widely respected news magazine, are in court fighting a libel lawsuit brought by a prominent Indonesian businessman with links to the military.


The IFJ firmly believes that issues of libel or defamation should not be dealt with in a criminal jurisdiction. Furthermore, taken as a whole, these cases could have the effect of silencing press freedom in Indonesia. The cases are sending a clear – and highly inappropriate - message to the Indonesian media that those with deep pockets should not be the subject of journalistic inquiry or legitimate comment.


The IFJ is calling on the Government of Indonesia to amend the law so that libel and defamation can only be tried as civil matters. Furthermore, the IFJ calls on the defamation and libel laws to be reviewed to ensure that there is an appropriate and rational relationship between the relevant harm and the amount of damages that can be awarded.


Finally, the IFJ calls on the Government of Indonesia to do all that is necessary to ensure that the media in Indonesia operates in a climate of healthy and robust press freedom.


Yours sincerely



Christopher Warren

President, IFJ


Recommended action:


Send appeals:


  • Condemning the Court’s guilty verdict against editor, Supratman.

  • Calling on the Government of Indonesia to urgently amend the laws so that libel and defamation can only be tried in the civil jurisdiction and to ensure that there is an appropriate and rational relationship between the relevant harm and the amount of damages that can be awarded in these cases;

  • Calling on the Government of Indonesia to do all that is necessary to ensure that the media in Indonesia operates in a climate of healthy and robust press freedom.


    Appeals:


    President Megawati Soekarnoputri

    President of the Republic of Indonesia

    Istana Merdeka

    Jakarta 10110

    Indonesia

    Fax: + 62 21 345 2685 (via State Secretariat) / 62 21 526 8726 / 62 21 380 5511 / 62 21 345 7782


    Prof. Dr. HM Amien Rais

    Spokesman/Chairman of the People's Consultative Assembly of Indonesia

    Fax 62-21-5734874


    Yusril Ihza Mahendra

    State Minister of Justice and Human Rights

    Jl Kuningan Timur M 2/5

    Jakarta 12950 Indonesia

    Fax: + 62 21 5256855


    Please copy appeals to the IFJ Asia Office at ifj-asia@alliance.org.au


    For further information please contact Jacqui Park at ifj-asia@alliance.org.au