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Indonesia 9 January 2006

Press freedom threatened by new verdict against press group Tempo

Jakarta’s high court on 6 January 2005 upheld a defamation verdict against journalist Goenawan Mohamad and press group PT Tempo Inti Media Harian for one billion Indonesian rupees (nearly one hundred thousand euros) and ordered it to publish apologies in two national dailies.

"Indonesian courts have started the year by sending a terrible signal for press freedom," said Reporters Without Borders. Businessman Tomy Winata, who brought the case, had lodged a score of complaints against the daily Koran Tempo and the weekly Tempo.

The court found Mohamad guilty of violating the presumption of innocence and defaming Tomy Winata by calling him a "thug" in an article carried in March 2003 by the daily Koran Tempo. A few days earlier, a crowd of Winata supporters invaded the offices of Tempo in Jakarta, injuring several journalists. The weekly had published an investigation on the possible implication of the controversial businessman in a fire at a market.

"Sentencing a journalist to a swingeing fine because he expressed an opinion about a businessman who sent his henchmen to threaten a newspaper is unacceptable", the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

The organisation urged the Indonesian government to reform the law on defamation so that the fines that can be imposed cannot threaten a media’s very existence.

Lawyers for the press group Tempo are planning to appeal to the Supreme Court. One of them, Darwin Aritonang, was quoted by the Jakarta Post as saying that the "verdict is too much".

Tomy Winata has lodged several civil and criminal complaints against journalists on the group PT Tempo Inti Media Harian. In January 2004, the businessman, who has many political connections, won a defamation case following an investigation into his plans for gambling rooms. The press group was sentenced to pay one million dollars.

Tempo was sentenced again in March of the same year to pay a fine of more than 50,000 euros over a Tomy Winata investigation. He had lodged six complaints related to this one article. In this case, journalist Bambang Harymurti was sentenced to one year in prison.

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