Newspaper Editor Faces Criminal Defamation Charges in Timor Leste

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

criminal defamation.

 

According to local reports, the editor

of Tempo

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

released.

 

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

Monteiro.

 

“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.

 

For further

information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific

on +612 9333 0919

 

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide