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Indonesia: Campaign Against Criminal Defamation

IFJ Calls For Step Up In Campaign Against Criminal Defamation

JAKARTA (IFJ-Asia/Pacific Media Watch): The campaign for the decriminalising of defamation in Indonesia took a giant step forward with the Supreme Court decision on February 9 to clear Tempo magazine chief editor Bambang Harymurti of all charges of criminal defamation.

"This is a great result for the campaign for press freedom in Indonesia," said International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) president Christopher Warren.

On February 9, 2006, a panel of three justices; Justice Djoko Sarwoko, Justice Harifin A. Tumpa and led by Chief Justice Bagir Manan, ruled unanimously that the Press Law should be used to hear defamation cases against journalists instead of the Criminal Law thus overturning earlier decisions by the High Court of Jakarta and the Regency Court of Central Jakarta, which had found Bambang guilty of criminal defamation and sentenced him to a one-year prison sentence.

According to Supreme Court spokesperson and panel member, Justice Djoko Sarwoko, the decision was made in recognition of the important role of the press as a fourth pillar of democracy to keep society informed.

Bambang was found guilty by a Jakarta Court on September 16, 2004, of defaming businessman Tomy Winata over an article published in Tempo magazine on March 3-9, 2003. The article aired allegations that Winata stood to benefit from a fire in a textile market.

"This is a win not just for Bambang, but for all journalists currently facing criminal defamation cases in Indonesia," said Warren.

"While this decision sets an important precedent in the trying of defamation cases, it is only the beginning. In order for journalists to be protected from serving jail time, the decision to use the Press Law and not the penal code when involving the media must be used by all Indonesian courts," said Warren.

"While this is a landmark crucial step in our campaign to abolish criminal defamation in Indonesia, we still have more work to do," said Warren.

"The IFJ and our affiliate in Indonesia, Alliansi Jurnalis Independen (AJI) will continue to lobby the Indonesian Government and judicial system to decriminalise defamation," said Warren.

The IFJ has called on the Government of Indonesia to amend the law so that libel and defamation can only be tried as civil matters. The IFJ has also called on the removal of the crimes of insulting the president or vice president. Furthermore, the IFJ has called 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.

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