IFJ Protests Over Legal Proceedings Against <i>Tempo</i> in Indonesia

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the global organisation representing over 500,000 journalists worldwide, is deeply concerned that the various Tempo cases currently before the court in Indonesia are having a negative effect on press freedom in that country.


The IFJ is particularly concerned over criminal penalties and the amount of damages that could be imposed on Tempo and its journalists.


The IFJ has protested to the President of Indonesia, Spokesman/ Chairman of the People's Consultative Assembly of Indonesia and State Minister for Justice and Human Rights of Indonesia in the following letter:



3 October 2003


President Megawati Soekarnoputri

President of the Republic of Indonesia

Istana Merdeka

Jakarta 10110

Indonesia

Fax: + 62 21 345 2685 (via State Secretariat) / 62 21 526 8726 / 62 21 380 5511 / 62 21 345 7782


Prof. Dr. HM Amien Rais

Spokesman/Chairman of the People's Consultative Assembly of Indonesia

Fax 62-21-5734874


Yusril Ihza Mahendra

State Minister of Justice and Human Rights

Jl Kuningan Timur M 2/5

Jakarta 12950 Indonesia

Fax: + 62 21 5256855


Dear President and Sirs


The International Federation of Journalists, the global organisation representing over 500,000 journalists worldwide, is deeply concerned over recent developments in the Tempo case currently before the East Jakarta District Court.


In particular, we are concerned that the Court on 29 September issued preventative seizure orders over the house of co-founder and senior editor of Tempo Magazine, Goenawan Mohamad. We understand that similar orders were then issued on 1 October over the offices of Koran Tempo.


According to our information, the case involves businessman Tomy Winata who filed defamation charges against Mohamad after a report carried in the 12 March edition of Koran Tempo in which Winata was called a “thug.”


The IFJ believes that the issuing of these orders will have a chilling effect on press freedom in Indonesia and are an inappropriate response to a defamation case.


Similarly, there are other cases facing the courts involving Winata and Tempo, with several journalists facing civil and criminal charges arising from a story published in Tempo on 3 March 2003 which aired allegations that Winata was set to profit from a blaze at a textile market. The story also carried a denial of these allegations from Winata. If found guilty, the journalists could face 10 years in prison.


Further, we understand that Winata is claiming damages from Tempo and the journalists of Rp200 billion (approximately Euro 20 million), which, if successful, will threaten the existence of the independent news publication. This is clearly completely out of proportion with the alleged offence.


These actions by the courts seem to be part of a disturbing trend of using defamation and libel cases to restrict press freedom and legitimate comment. According to our information, the editor of tabloid Rakyat Merdeka received a suspended sentence early in September from South Jakarta District Court for publishing a satirical cartoon of parliamentary speaker Akbar Tandjung.


The IFJ firmly believes that issues of libel or defamation should not be dealt with in a criminal jurisdiction. Furthermore, taken as a whole, these cases could have the effect of silencing press freedom in Indonesia. The cases are sending a clear – and highly inappropriate - message to the Indonesian media that those with deep pockets should not be the subject of journalistic inquiry or legitimate comment.


The IFJ is calling on the Government of Indonesia to amend the law so that libel and defamation can only be tried as civil matters. Furthermore, the IFJ calls 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. The IFJ calls on the Government of Indonesia to act swiftly so that the outcomes in the Tempo cases are just and reasonable.


Finally, the IFJ calls on the Government of Indonesia to do all that is necessary to ensure that the media in Indonesia operates in a climate of healthy and robust press freedom.



Yours sincerely



Christopher Warren

President, IFJ


Recommended action:


Send appeals:


  • Condemning the Court’s decision to issue preventative seizure orders on the home of Mohamed and offices of Koran Tempo;

  • Calling on the Government of Indonesia to urgently amend the laws so that libel and defamation can only be tried in the civil jurisdiction and to ensure that there is an appropriate and rational relationship between the relevant harm and the amount of damages that can be awarded in these cases;

  • Calling on the Government of Indonesia to do all that is necessary to ensure that the media in Indonesia operates in a climate of healthy and robust press freedom.



    Appeals:


    President Megawati Soekarnoputri

    President of the Republic of Indonesia

    Istana Merdeka

    Jakarta 10110

    Indonesia

    Fax: + 62 21 345 2685 (via State Secretariat) / 62 21 526 8726 / 62 21 380 5511 / 62 21 345 7782


    Prof. Dr. HM Amien Rais

    Spokesman/Chairman of the People's Consultative Assembly of Indonesia

    Fax 62-21-5734874


    Yusril Ihza Mahendra

    State Minister of Justice and Human Rights

    Jl Kuningan Timur M 2/5

    Jakarta 12950 Indonesia

    Fax: + 62 21 5256855


    Please copy appeals to the IFJ Asia Office at ifj-asia@alliance.org.au

    For further information please contact Jacqui Park at ifj-asia@alliance.org.au