Timor Leste Prime Minister files defamation suit against journalist

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate Timor Lorosa’e Journalists’ Association (AJTL) in strongly criticizing the defamation suit filed by the Timor Leste Prime Minister against a journalist. The IFJ joins AJTL is calling on the Prime Minister to immediately withdraw the charges and guarantee the Press Law.

Following a report published in November 2015, Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araujo filed a defamation lawsuit against Raimundo Oki from the Timor Post on January 22, 2016. The lawsuit relates to a report published by  Oki on November 10, 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 2013, Oki faced defamation charges over an article about the alleged corruption of a state prosecutor. The case was absolved by the court.

According to Timor Leste’s Penal Code, Article 285 (1), defamation for false accusations is a crime punishable for up to three years. However, the Press Law under Article 8 clearly protects the work of journalists stating: “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.”

Filipe Belo, president of AJTL said: “The Prime Minister should lead by example on how to respect the country’s Press Law by recognizing that such reporting is part of the work of journalists. The lawsuit is an act of criminalization of the work of journalists; the defamation case effectively ignores the application of the Press Law, as the specialized law that should address such cases.”

The IFJ said: “The actions of the Prime Minister to bring defamation charges against Oki, instead of following the process of the Press Law are extremely concerning. The government must follow the due-processes, thereby guaranteeing press freedom within Timor Leste. The charges against Oki need to be immediately dropped.”

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

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