Editor convicted of criminal defamation

New York, October 27, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is dismayed that the executive editor of the daily tabloid Rakyat Merdeka was sentenced today on charges of insulting the president.

The South Jakarta District Court gave editor Supratman (who, like many Indonesians, uses only one name) a six-month suspended sentence after Rakyat Merdeka published four headlines that were deemed offensive to President Megawati Sukarnoputri. Supratman was charged under articles 134 and 137 of the Criminal Code, which criminalizes the “intentional insult” of the president or vice president.

One of the offending headlines compared Megawati to Soemanto, an Indonesian man arrested in 2002 for cannibalizing a neighbor. Supratman has stated that the headlines were direct quotes from participants in public protests against Megawati’s policies.

Authorities first questioned Supratman in February. Legal proceedings against him began in June. Today’s verdict mandates that Supratman will be jailed for six months if he commits the same crime within a year, according to news reports.

Several high-profile lawsuits have been filed this year against the media under the press laws in Indonesia’s Criminal Code, which dates from the Dutch colonial era. On September 9, Rakyat Merdeka Chief Editor Karim Paputungan was given a five-month suspended sentence on defamation charges after the daily published a caricature of Parliament Speaker Akbar Tandjung.

“CPJ is appalled that Indonesia is utilizing arcane colonial laws to criminalize journalists’ work,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “President Megawati must take immediate steps to remove defamation laws from Indonesia’s Criminal Code.”

For more information about recent criminal defamation cases in Indonesia, please see the October 2 news alert and the October 3 letter.