Global media groups question Timor Leste PM commitment to press freedom

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins the South East Asia Journalist Unions (SEAJU), along with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Freedom House, in reiterating its call for the Prime Minister of Timor Leste, Dr. Rui Maria de Araújo, to immediately drop the criminal charges against journalist Oki Raimundos and Lorenco Martins from the Timor Post. The IFJ, SEAJU, CPJ and Freedom House call on Prime Minister Araújo and his government to protect press freedom in Timor Leste.

Today, July 19, the IFJ, SEAJU, CPJ and Freedom House issued a second letter to the Prime Minister of Timor Leste, Dr. Rui Maria de Araújo, regarding the criminal charges of defamation against journalist Oki Raimundos and the former editor of the Timor Post, Lorenco Martins. The letter is the second to come from the global media organisations, and was issued in response to the Prime Minister’s letter received on April 28.

In the letter, the organizations reiterate calls to drop the charges, noting that, “the fact that the criminal law allows for the investigation and prosecution of journalists for inaccuracy or what may be regarded as unfair reporting points is, by itself, unacceptable in any modern democratic country. It is all the more disappointing that Timor-Leste, a democracy, has such laws and highlights the need for urgent law reform.”

The criminal charges against Raimundos and Martins, relates to a story published in November 2015 in the Timor Post, which said that Prime Minister Araujo, in his previous capacity as advisor to the Minister for Finance recommended the winning bid for a project to supply and install computer equipment to the new Ministry of Finance building in 2014. As outlined under the country’s new Press Law, Article 34, the right of reply is guaranteed. As such, 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.

In April 2016, IFJ legal representative, Jim Nolan, travelled to Timor Leste to observe the first stage of the prosecutor’s investigation into the charges, which included interviews with Raimundos and Martins. Nolan wrote a detailed report outlining the issue of criminal defamation and press freedom in Timor Leste, with particular reference to Raimundos and Martins case.

The IFJ said: “We renew our call, along with SEAJU, CPJ and Freedom House, for the Prime Minister to withdraw the criminal charges against Oki Raimundos and Lorenco Martins. Criminal defamation laws, in any form, have no place in democratic nations, including Timor Leste. The lawsuit brought against Oki and Vicente is an attack on press freedom and the right to information in Timor Leste. The government of Timor Leste is trying to silence critics, through the use of laws that contradict the newly established Press Council. As a matter of principle, criminal prosecutions of journalists cannot be tolerated.”

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

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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