PRESSURE GROWS AGAINST CRIMINAL DEFAMATION LAWS
In East Timor, President Xanana Gusmao has sent a draft law back to the Ministry of Justice for reconsideration due to concerns over criminal defamation provisions.
The draft law seeks to amend the penal code to allow jail terms of up to three years and unlimited fines for defaming public officials. Passed by East Timor's parliament and signed by Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri in December 2005, the draft law requires Gusmao's signature before entering into force.
In Cambodia, Prime Minister Hun Sen declared his support for decriminalising defamation laws on 13 February 2006, saying such offences should be tried in civil courts. He also said compensation was the appropriate solution for victims of defamation.
When Cambodia's laws are decriminalised, individuals will no longer be subject to jail terms of up to one year and fines of up to 10 million riel (US$2,600). Hun Sen made the announcement after opposition leader Sam Rainsy was pardoned on 5 February. Rainsy had been convicted last year of defaming the prime minister and Prince Norodom Ranariddh and sentenced to 18 months in prison.
In Thailand, Shin Corporation has offered to drop criminal defamation charges against media activist Supinya Klangnarong in exchange for an out-of-court settlement. Supinya has rejected the offer, saying she will only accept if the company announces that it "embraces press freedom."
Supinya faces a Bt400 million (US$10.2 million) lawsuit for alleging in a July 2003 interview with the "Thai Post" that Shin Corp, formerly owned by the family of Thailand's prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, benefited financially from the prime minister's policies.
A court is expected to deliver a verdict on 15 March, which will set a crucial precedent for the interpretation of defamation laws and constitutional rights to free expression in Thailand, notes IFJ.
Meanwhile, on 9 February, Indonesia's Supreme Court quashed a lower court ruling against editor Bambang Harymurti, who had been convicted of criminal defamation and sentenced to one year in prison in September 2004.
Harymurti's publication, "Tempo", had published an article in its 3 March 2003 issued alleging that businessman Tomy Winata stood to benefit from a suspicious fire in Tanah Abang textile market.
A Supreme Court spokesperson said the decision was made in recognition of the media's important role as the fourth pillar of democracy in keeping society informed. However, he warned that the court's protection extends only to journalists who embrace journalistic ethics.
Visit these links:
- IFJ: http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?Index=3734&Language=EN
- IFJ Campaign Resource on Criminal Defamation:
- Southeast Asia Press Alliance: http://www.seapabkk.org
- International Press Institute: http://www.freemedia.at/Protests2006/Timor_Leste12.01.06.htm
- Human Rights Watch: http://hrw.org/photos/2006/cambodia/released/index.htm
- Defining Defamation: Principles on Freedom of Expression and Protection of Reputation: http://www.article19.org/pdfs/standards/definingdefamation.pdf
- Alliance for Freedom of Expression in Cambodia:
- Supinya Campaign: http://www.wacc.org.uk/supinya
(Photo of Cambodian leader Sam Rainsy courtesy of Deutsche Welle)