Journalists charged with criminal libel

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about your government’s failure to prosecute those responsible for last month’s attack on Tempo magazine. Moreover, we are disturbed that two of the journalists injured in the attack are now themselves in danger of arrest under Indonesia’s criminal libel laws.

On March 7, Tempo magazine received a letter from the lawyer of businessman Tomy Winata threatening libel action over an article published in the magazine’s March 3 edition. The article, written by reporter Ahmad Taufik, cited allegations that Winata stood to profit from a February fire that had destroyed the Tanah Abang textile market in the capital, Jakarta, and may be responsible for the blaze. The article also included a statement from Winata denying that allegation.

On March 8, a group of more than 100 men gathered in front of the Tempo offices in Jakarta to protest the article. After Taufik went outside to address the protesters, they pulled him into the crowd and assaulted him, according to Taufik. With the help of a police officer, the journalist invited several protesters into the offices to discuss the issue with other Tempo staff members. Once inside, the protesters continued verbally and physically abusing the journalists. Reporter Abdul Manan was injured when a protester threw a wooden box at him.

Several Tempo employees and protesters subsequently went to the police station to negotiate peacefully. While waiting at the station, editor Bambang Harymurti and reporter Karaniya Dharmasaputra were hit by the protesters. The two were beaten in the presence of police officers, who did not intervene in the attack, according to witnesses.

Following the meeting at the police station, both sides signed an agreement that the matter would be resolved through legal channels. In the agreement, one of the protesters, a man named David, “explicitly admitted that he was representing Tomy Winata,” according to Taufik.

On March 27, police summoned editor Harymurti for questioning after Tomy Winata registered criminal complaints against Tempo magazine. Authorities charged Harymurti with libel and defamation under Articles 310 and 311 of the Criminal Code, which carry a maximum penalty of four years in prison. He is also charged with violating Article 5(1) of the Press Law, which requires the media to respect religious and moral norms and carries a maximum fine of 500 million rupiah (US$56,000). The same three charges were later filed against Ahmad Taufik. On April 5, police questioned Taufik for 11 hours about the case. Four other journalists from Tempo have also been questioned in the case.

Bambang Harymurti and Ahmad Taufik stand by the accuracy of the Tempo story and refuse to issue an apology to Tomy Winata or divulge their sources, as Winata’s supporters have demanded.

As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending our colleagues worldwide, CPJ condemns the physical intimidation and violence against Tempo staff in reprisal for their reporting. Although five protesters have been charged for the attack on the Tempo offices and the assault on the journalists, only one of these men has been arrested. CPJ calls for a swift and thorough investigation into the incident and for all those responsible to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Furthermore, CPJ is gravely concerned that criminal charges have been filed against Bambang Harymurti and Ahmad Taufik for their reporting. CPJ believes that no journalist should be criminally prosecuted for the content of his or her work. The complaint against Tempo magazine should be handled as a civil matter, and not as a criminal case.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your response.


Joel Simon
Acting Director