IFJ and SEAJU demand Timorese PM withdraw criminal defamation charges

On Monday, May 29, journalists in Timor Leste led a demonstration through the city calling for the criminal defamation charges to be dropped. Credit: IFJ

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the South East Asian Journalist Unions (SEAJU) call on the Timor Leste’s Prime Minister to immediately withdraw the charges of criminal defamation against two journalists before tomorrow’s verdict is handed down that may seem them imprisoned.

Late yesterday on Wednesday, May 30, Timor Leste’s Prime Minister, Rui Maria de Araujo, issued a letter to the judges in the criminal defamation against two Timor journalists, Oki Raimundos and Lourenco Martins. In the letter, published by the Portugese news agency, LUSA, Mr Araujo said that the defendants should not be given a prison sentence by the Public Prosecution Service. In the letter, Mr Araujo also noted that he did not have any right to compensation from the case.

The IFJ said today that this intervention is entirely at odds with court procedure and appears to depart from the prosecution’s earlier position to the Court when it (and the Prime Minister) had an opportunity to address the Court in the formal proceedings. 

While the IFJ and SEAJU welcome the late intervention, the action itself is misdirected and meaningless as the Prime Minister cannot interfere with the judiciary, nor does the judiciary have any compulsion to follow his advice,” the IFJ said. “What the Prime Minister can do to stop the journalists going to jail is to withdraw his case and allow appropriate adjudication by the country’s press council.”

Australia journalist and press freedom advocate, Peter Greste, who has advocated for Oki and Lourenco said: “By writing to the judges, the Prime Minister has indicated that neither justice nor press freedom is served by continuing the case against these two journalists. That is a positive step forward, but the only way he can guarantee both is by withdrawing the charges all together. I urge the Prime Minister to let the Press Council do its job and handle the matter, and let the courts get on with the important business of dealing with genuine cases of criminality."

SEAJU said: “While we welcome the belated move of Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araujo, we note that his letter is largely useless unless it is an attempt to influence the judiciary or the judges, which would be as great a danger is silencing Oki by having him jailed. But as the complainant in the case, he could, if he is truly committed to press freedom in Timor Leste, cause the immediate withdrawal of the case against Oki. This we strongly urge him to do."

The IFJ said urges the Prime Minister to reconsider the case and has again issued an invitation to meet with him to discuss the issue before the verdict at 5pm local time tomorrow.

If the Prime Minister is serious about strengthening the media and press freedom in Timor Leste and stemming the damage this case has cast upon his country and government, this case should be withdrawn. That is what is needed right now.”

Read more on the case here and here.

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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