Journalists’ Tempo lawsuit to be decided next week

New York, September 19, 2003—Indonesia’s Central Jakarta District Court is scheduled to deliver a verdict on Tuesday, September 23 in a case involving police negligence in a March disturbance that injured several journalists.

The Jakarta chapter of the Alliance for Independent Journalists’ (AJI) filed the suit on behalf of Tempo magazine journalists.

According to AJI’s lawyers, the suit accuses the police of negligence for failing to stop an angry mob from attacking journalists with Tempo magazine (and the publication’s office) on March 8, 2003. The group of more than 100 men gathered in front of the magazine’s office to protest an article in the March 3 edition of Tempo. According to local and international press reports, the article cited allegations against businessman Tomy Winata claiming that he could have profited from a fire in February, and that he may have been responsible for it. The article included Winata’s denial of the accusations.

According to AJI’s lawyers, police were informed about the protest on March 7 and were present near the Tempo offices on March 8 when the article’s author, Ahmad Taufik, went outside to address the crowd. Taufik said that the protesters pulled him into the crowd and assaulted him while police stood by. Then, accompanied by a police officer, Taufik said that he invited several members of the crowd inside the Tempo office to discuss the issue with other staffers, but the protesters continued to verbally and physically abuse the journalists. Reporter Abdul Manan was injured when a protester threw a wooden box at him, said Taufik.

In an attempt to peacefully resolve the conflict, several Tempo employees and protesters went to the local police station. While waiting at the police station, protesters attacked and beat editor Bambang Harymurti and reporter Karaniya Dharmsaputra in front of police officers who did not intervene, according to witnesses. One of the protesters admitted to working for Winata, according to Taufik.

On April 9, AJI filed suit against the police headquarters, the regional police of Jakarta, and the Central Jakarta police office under Indonesian Law No. 2/2002, which states that police have a duty to maintain security and order, enforce the law, and protect the people. The suit also accused the police of violating Article 7(d) of Law No.9/1998, which states that the government is obliged to provide security in the implementation of freedom of speech, and Article 4 of the Press Law, which guarantees press freedom.

“The police must be held accountable for standing by and failing to protect the journalists of Tempo magazine from these violent individuals,” said Ann Cooper, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “We urge the court to protect press freedom in Indonesia by punishing the police to the fullest extent of the law.”

According to local and international press reports, two of the protesters were indicted and tried in April for assault, and for encouraging others to perpetuate violence, but one was found not guilty and the other received a five-month suspended sentence in July.

At least five other legal actions have resulted from the article in Tempo. On March 27, Tomy Winata filed criminal and civil complaints against Harymurti and Taufik, said journalists familiar with the situation. In separate hearings in the Central Jakarta District Court, the Tempo journalists are currently on trial for criminal defamation, which carries a sentence of up to four years, and for “publishing an article to instigate unrest,” which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.