Indonesia’s central court in Jakarta has postponed until 16 September 2004 its verdict in the defamation case against Tempo editor Bambang Harymurti (photo). The judges will give their verdicts on the same day in the cases of journalists Ahmad Taufik and Teuku Iskandar Ali, who were named in the same case. The editor risks four years in prison and his colleagues could be sentenced to two years.
Before the postponement was announced, Teuku Iskandar Ali and Ahmad Taufik were allowed to address the court. Taufic pleaded for an acquittal: "Please do not imprison me," he said. "I already know what prison is like. Please don’t sentence me to pay a fine because I can’t afford it," said the journalist, who was imprisoned under the Suharto regime in 1994.
In Thailand, lawyers for Shin Corp, the company owned by the family of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, won a postponement until July 2005 of the criminal defamation case against press freedom activist Supinya Klangnarong (photo) and two journalists of the daily Thai Post. The trial will therefore be held after the February 2005 legislative elections.
At the end of September, Thai courts are due to rule on the admissibility of Shin Corp’s civil action. If the complaint is not rejected, Klangnarong could be sentenced to a fine of ten million euros.
Journalists face disproportionate sentences in libel trials
Open letter to the Secretary-General of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN)
His Excellency Ong Keng Yong, Secretary-General, Association of South East Asian Nations , Jakarta, Indonesia
Paris, 31 August 2004
The international press freedom organisation Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) seeks to draw your attention to the cases of Thai journalist Supinya Klangnarong and editor of Indonesian weekly Tempo, Bambang Harymurti, both at risk of heavy sentences on 6 September 2004.
We believe the penalties called for in both cases to be excessive and in contradiction with international and regional declarations on free expression.
We remind you that ASEAN’s founding statement in 1967 called on member states to respect "justice and the rule of law". It is your duty to remind governments of member states of their commitments. It is all the more regrettable that these trials are taking place in two countries, Indonesia and Thailand, that are often held up as models within ASEAN for their respect for free expression.
It will be a major step backwards for freedom of expression in South East Asia if on 6 September severe penalties are imposed on these two journalists.
The central court for the Jakarta district will rule on the case of Bambang Harymurti, chief editor of the weekly Tempo, who is at risk of a two-year jail sentence with immediate effect for "defamation". The trial follows a complaint made by businessman Tomy Winata who objected to an article in the 3 March 2003 issue speculating that he might have been behind a fire at a textile market.
In Thailand, Supinya Klangnarong, General Secretary of the Campaign for Popular Media Reform, is also facing a defamation trial. The case relates to an article carried in the daily Thai Post on 16 July 2003 in which the journalist commented that the profits of Shin Corp had increased significantly since its founder Thaksin Shinawatra became prime minister. She is at risk of a 400 million baht (around 8 millions euros) fine.
We urge you to use your influence with these countries’ authorities to see that they respect freedom of the press in both these cases.
More generally, Reporters Without Borders calls on you to promote reform of libel laws in ASEAN member states so as to abolish prison sentences and swingeing fines. The organisation reminds you that in January 2000, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression stated in very clear terms that "imprisonment as punishment for the peaceful expression of an opinion constitutes a serious violation of human rights."