Asian Defamation Cases Should be Dropped and Laws Reformed, says IFJ

Decisions to adjourn two high-profile criminal defamation cases against journalists in Asia today allow for the cases to be dropped and for the Governments of Indonesia and Thailand to reform their defamation laws, says the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the global organisation representing over 500,000 journalists worldwide.

In both Thailand and Indonesia, the IFJ has led campaigns to oppose cases of criminal defamation filed against journalists, with hearings in courts in Bangkok and Jakarta today.

“The separate decisions to adjourn these cases allow everyone to act in a reasonable and rational manner and drop these heavy-handed prosecutions,” said IFJ President Christopher Warren today.

In Thailand, the secretary-general of the Campaign for Popular Media Reform, Supinya Klangnarong, as well as local newspaper The Thai Post and three of its editors, face up to two years in prison and a fine of up to 400 million baht (approximately USD10 million). The defendants pled not guilty and were given bail with testimonies slated to begin on 19 July 2005.

The suit has been filed by the Thai telecommunications conglomerate Shin Corp, which is owned by the family of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinnawatra. It stemmed from a story published in the Thai Post on 16 July 2003 which quoted Klangnarong as saying that Shin Corp was a major beneficiary of Thaksin’s policies.

In Indonesia, Tempo journalist Bambang Harymurti appeared in court in Jakarta today to defend himself against a defamation action brought by businessman Tomy Winata over an article published in Tempo magazine on 3-9 March 2003. The article aired allegations that Winata stood to benefit from a fire in a textile market.

The decision has been adjourned to 16 September 2004, the same day that the decisions of Harymurti’s colleagues, T. Iskandar Ali and Ahmad Taufik, will be handed down.

The three Indonesian journalists face up to four years jail each if found guilty. Prosecutors are arguing for a two-year term each. “Criminal defamation has taken centre stage in Asia today. However, the decisions to adjourn these cases allow the prosecutors to respond to national and international concerns and withdraw these inappropriate prosecutions,” said IFJ President Christopher Warren today.

“We reiterate our call on all governments to remove criminal defamation from the statute books,” said Warren.

“’Don’t jail journalists’ is the simple message we are sending today.”

The IFJ has been co-ordinating action in both Thailand and Indonesia, including sending IFJ lawyers to hear the decision in Jakarta today, working with affiliates and providing logistical support to the defendants in Thailand.

For further information, please contact Christopher Warren on +61 411 757 668
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries.