Tempo Jailing Another Nail in the Coffin for Press Freedom in Indonesia, says IFJ

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the global organisation representing over 500,000 journalists worldwide, has today slammed the decision by a Jakarta court to jail journalist Bambang Harymurti for twelve months in a criminal defamation case in Indonesia.

Tempo editor Bambang Harymurti was found guilty in Jakarta today of defaming 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.

Bambang has been released due to the execution of his sentence pending an appeal.

“The judgment has the potential for a chilling effect on press freedom by hampering journalism on a day-to-day basis, “ said James Nolan, IFJ international legal expert, who was in the court today when the decision was handed down.

In a separate decision handed down earlier in the day, Tempo journalists T. Iskandar Ali and Ahmad Taufik were acquitted of the defamation charges they were facing stemming from the same article. The Government of Indonesia was ordered to pay all costs in the case against the two journalists.

“The decision continues a deeply disturbing trend mirroring the darkest days of the Soeharto regime for media freedom in Indonesia,” IFJ President Christopher Warren said today.

“While of course we welcome the decision to acquit the two journalists, to find the editor guilty condemns the entire publication – and puts another nail in the coffin for press freedom in Indonesia,” said Warren.

The IFJ and AJI have been leading a campaign to have the charges against all the journalists dropped, including organising an international day of protest against the cases on 16 August 2004, mobilising IFJ affiliates in at least 21 countries to protest.

The IFJ has sent journalists and lawyers from the region to Jakarta four times to observe the progress of the Tempo cases over the last month and today’s decision was observed by an Australian lawyer, James Nolan and Alan Kennedy, journalist, Sydney Morning Herald in Jakarta.

The IFJ has called on the Government of Indonesia to amend the law so that libel and defamation can only be tried as civil matters. The IFJ has also called on the removal of the crimes of insulting the president or vice president. Furthermore, the IFJ has called 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.

“This is a sad day for press freedom in Indonesia.”

“No journalist should ever be jailed for defamation,” said Warren.

Ahmad Taufik, a founding member of AJI, has previously been jailed under the criminal code during an attempt by the Soeharto regime to clamp down on press freedom. In 1995, he was jailed for three years for reportedly “hate-sowing articles”. In 1997, he was awarded the 1995 CPJ International Press Freedom Award. He could not accept the award in 1995 because he was serving out his three-year sentence in jail.

Over the past year, there have been a number of defamation cases brought against journalists and media organisations in Indonesia. These include:

• Four civil and two criminal charges have been brought against journalists/editors from weekly news magazine Tempo during 2003 following an article published in the 3 March 2003 issue of the magazine citing allegations that businessman Tomy Winata stood to profit from a fire at a Jakarta textile market, and including denials of the allegations from the businessman. The charges included criminal defamation, carrying sentences of up to four years in jail for the journalists. In addition, Winata was claiming damages from Tempo and the journalists of Rp200 billion (approximately Euro 20 million), but was awarded USD59,000 against Tempo and USD1million against Koran Tempo.

• Arising from comments made surrounding the Tempo case, a further libel case filed by Winata against Tempo founder Goenawan Mohamad saw the East Jakarta District Court on 29 September 2003 issue preventative seizure orders over Mohamad’s house, which prohibits him from selling the property until there is a verdict. This move is reportedly extremely unusual in a defamation case.

• In September 2003, the news editor of the newspaper Rakyat Merdeka, Karim Paputungan, received a suspended sentence from a Jakarta court for publishing a satirical cartoon of parliamentary speaker Akbar Tandjung. The cartoon satirised the speaker after he was found guilty of corruption. (Akbar Tandjung is appealing the decision and remains speaker of parliament.)

• On 27 October 2003, the editor Supratman, of 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 the Indonesian Government and particularly the President. The case was brought under article 134 of the criminal code (KUHP), which outlaws insults to the President or Vice-President and is punishable by up to six years in jail.

The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries

For more information please contact:
Christopher Warren +61 (0) 411 757 668 or
James Nolan +61 (0) 414 782 199
Alan Kennedy +61 (0) 417 067 314