Criminal defamation continues to intimidate journalists across SE Asia

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliates the Timor Leste Press Union (TLPU), the Timor Leste Journalists Association (TLJA) and the South East Asia Journalists’ Unions (SEAJU) in strongly criticize the defamation lawsuit filed by the Timor Leste Prime Minister, Rui Maria de Araujo, against a local journalist, January 22, 2016. The IFJ, TLPU, TLJA and SEAJU call for the lawsuit to be dropped and for an end to criminal defamation across the region.

On January 22, Raimundo Oki from the Timor Post was presented with a defamation lawsuit  from Timor Leste Prime Minister Rui Maris de Araujo. The lawsuit related to an article published on November 10, about the Prime Minister’s former role as advisor to the Minister for Finance in 2014. Following the article and complaints from the Prime Minister, the Timor Post published the Prime Minister’s reply to the article in the paper’s front page on 17 November 2015. The Timor Post then published a clarification of Oki’s report in its 18 November 2015 issue.

Under the Timor Leste Press Law Article 8, protection for journalists is included. The Article notes: “The right of journalists to report shall be exercised on the basis of constitutional powers, may not be subjected to interference that threatens their independence and objectivity, freedom of establishment, and freedom of conscience.” However according to Timor Leste’s Penal Code, Article 285 (1), and defamation for false accusations is a crime punishable for up to three years.

In a statement, TLPU said that they strongly condemn the attitudes of Prime Minister Araujo in taking Oki to court.

TLJA said: “We condemn the action taken by PM Rui Maria De Araujo as an action against Timor Leste Constitutions article 40 and 41 and Timor Leste Media law 2015. Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araujo who represents new generation of Timor Leste in the Government failed to secure Timor Leste as democratic country in the region.”

SEAJU strongly condemns the continued use of criminal defamation to silence and repress press freedom and freedom of expression across the region. Criminal defamation remains a legal avenue in all SEAJU countries. In the Philippines, radio journalist Rey Cabaraban was arrested on June 9, 2015 stemming from a libel case filed by the Bikdnon governor, Jose Maria Zubiri Jr. In Myanmar, charges were filed by the government against 17 journalists in 2015 and in Thailand, two journalists, Chutmai Sidasathian and Australian Alan Morison, were sued under defamation laws by the Thai Navy, albeit acquitted later by the Phuket Provincial court.

SEAJU said: “We urge the Timor Leste Prime Minister to withdraw the charges against Oki and end the use of criminal defamation as a tool to silence critics and journalists. We call on governments across South East Asia to take the right measures to end criminal defamation laws against journalists and media workers.”

The IFJ joined TLPU, TLJA and SEAJU in calling on the government to withdraw the lawsuit immediately and respect the due process set out by the Press Law. The IFJ also said that criminal defamation remains an issue across the region, and changes needed to be made to end the use of such laws as a tool to silence and suppress. 

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0946 

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 139 countries

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