Criminal Libel Action Against Indonesian Reporter

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30 September 1998

 

His Excellency Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie
President
Office of the President
Bina Graha, Jalan Veteran No. 17 Jakarta
Pusat, Indonesia

 

Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is alarmed over a police summons issued today to reporter Rudy Goenawan of the magazine Jakarta Jakarta in connection with an article he wrote concerning the May rioting in Indonesia.

Goenawan has been summoned to appear on Thursday at police headquarters in connection with a criminal investigation into a story he wrote in issue Number 609 of Jakarta Jakarta, published in July. The story cited an allegation that a Chinese woman, known only as Vivian, was raped by a group of men who told her, "You must be raped because you are Chinese." According to the story, the quote originated in Internet reports on the May riots. The same statement was printed in a June 10 story in The New York Times and was circulated in other media in Jakarta. On August 12, a group of 22 Moslem organizations, reportedly led by the influential Indonesian Committee for World Muslim Solidarity (KISDI), complained to Jakarta police chief Maj. Gen. Noegroho Djajoesman, that the story insulted the Moslem people of Indonesia.

The group urged criminal action against Goenawan and under Article 156 of the penal code, which prohibits defaming a religious group. This colonial era law carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and was used frequently during the Suharto era to prosecute journalists. By issuing a summons for Goenawan, the police have now taken the first step toward prosecuting the reporter.

Your excellency, we are concerned that the use of such laws can have a chilling effect on freedom of expression. Indonesia has taken extraordinarily impressive strides in recent months towards the establishment of a free and open press, but laws remain on the books which can be used to prosecute journalists for libel- and defamation-related offenses that most democratic states would handle in civil, rather than criminal, court.

We agree with our colleagues in the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) who have called upon the police not to prosecute Goenawan and Jakarta Jakarta. "What is happening to Rudy Goenawan could become a precedent that could set back the increased freedom that the press has enjoyed since May 1998," AJI said in a statement issued on September 30 in Jakarta.

As an organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues worldwide, we urge your excellency to use your good offices to stop the prosecution of Rudy Goenawan and to ask the parties to this dispute to settle their difference in civil court. We further urge you to work vigorously toward the elimination of criminal defamation statutes from the Indonesian legal code.

Thank you for your consideration. We await your response.

Sincerely,

Ann K. Cooper

Executive Director



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His Excellency Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie
President
Office of the President
Bina Graha, Jalan Veteran No. 17 Jakarta
Pusat, Indonesia

Fax: 62-21-778-182