The International Federation of
Journalists (IFJ) is concerned at the status of the free media in Timor Leste as
a local newspaper editor faces a possible prison sentence on charges of
According to local reports, the editor
Semanal, Jose Belo, was issued with a notification of
defamation charges on December 12, 2008, in relation to a series of news reports
published on October 12, 2008. The reports investigated alleged corruption by
Justice Minister Lucia Lobato.
Belo appeared at the Prosecutor’s
Office on January 19 and was reportedly questioned for three hours before being
The IFJ is also concerned about
the application of fair judicial process, in view of reports that Belo and Tempo Semanal have beendenied access to documentation
pertaining to the charges by the Office of the Prosecutor-General, Longuinos
“The charges of criminal
defamation against Jose Belo and Tempo
Semanal highlightthe two-fold
problem for independent media in Timor Leste – the targeting of journalists who
report in the public interest and the need for a constitutionally recognised
media law which does not criminalise defamation,” IFJ
Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.
In October 2008, Timor Leste’s
Government released the draft of a new penal code which decriminalises
defamation. However, the code is awaiting Parliamentary approval.
All legal actions related to the
media in Timor Leste, which was previously occupied by Indonesia, continue to refer to Indonesian
law in which defamation may be dealt with as a criminal offence.
“Wherever journalists face the
risk of imprisonment for conducting their professional work, the media cannot
confidently fulfill its responsibility to act as guardians of the public
interest,” Park said.
The IFJ calls on the Government of
Timor Leste to honour its commitment to enact a media law in which defamation
is dealt with under a civil code rather than a criminal code, in the interests of
the principles of plurality and freedom of expression.
information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific
on +612 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide