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Freedom of expression organisations condemn sentencing of editor to one year in prison

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following press release was issued by the signatories listed below:


The undersigned freedom of expression and press freedom organisations strongly condemn the decision of the Central Jakarta Court to sentence Bambang Harymurti, the editor of Tempo magazine, to a year's imprisonment for defamation. We are united in our view that such a disproportionate sanction is a serious setback for freedom of expression, reversing gains made since the fall of the Suharto regime. The decision is also an unfortunate development for the broader evolution of democratic values, just as Indonesia celebrates its first direct presidential election.

Bambang Harymurti, along with two Tempo journalists, were sued by businessman Tomy Winata for an article published in the 3-9 March 2003 edition of Tempo, which contained allegations that Tomy Winata stood to profit from a February 2003 fire that destroyed the Tanah Abang textile market in Jakarta and that he might be responsible for the blaze. The decision, based on antiquated criminal defamation laws, acquitted the two journalists, placing sole responsibility on Harymurti and sentencing him to a one-year prison term. Harymurti is free pending an appeal in the case.

We welcome the acquittals of the two journalists but strongly denounce the sentence imposed on Harymurti. In our view, imprisonment for defamation can never be legitimate and, on its own, represents a breach of the right to freedom of expression regardless of the statements which have been challenged. The decision, if not reversed, will undoubtedly have a severe chilling effect on freedom of expression in Indonesia.

We call on the Indonesian authorities to withdraw the criminal charges against Harymurti. We also call on the authorities to conduct a complete review of the defamation laws with a view to repealing criminal defamation altogether and to bringing the civil defamation laws into line with international and constitutional standards of respect for freedom of expression.


Access to Information Programme, Bulgaria
ARTICLE 19, Global Campaign for Free Expression, UK
Azerbaijan Journalists Confederation, Azerbaijan
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), Philippines
Campaign for Popular Media Reform (CPMR), Thailand
Campaign for Popular Democracy (CPD), Thailand
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), Canada
Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists, Jordan
Centre for Independent Journalism, Malaysia
Central Asian and Southern Caucasus Freedom of Expression Network (CASCFEN), Azerbaijan
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), USA
Forum Asia, Thailand
Freedom House, USA
Free Media Movement, Sri Lanka
Independent Journalism Centre, Moldova
Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), Indonesia
Index on Censorship (IOC), UK
Internews, East Timor
Indonesian Center for Environmental Law, Indonesia
Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information (ISAI), Indonesia
International Federation of Journalists, Belgium
International Freedom Network, UK
International Press Institute (IPI), Austria
Journalists' Trade Union, Azerbaijan
Legal Research Institute, National Autonomous University of Mexico
Malaysiakini, Malaysia
National Security Archive, USA
Open Society Institute, USA
Reporters sans frontières (RSF), France
Sanjana Hattotuwa, Rotary World Peace Scholar, Sri Lanka
South Asia Forum on Human Rights (SAFHR), Nepal
Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
SUARAM, Malaysia
Timor Lorosa'e Journalists' Association (TLJA), East Timor
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC), Canada
World Association of Newspapers (WAN), France
World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), USA


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