CPJ condemns guilty verdict in libel case

New York, Sept. 16, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists deplores today’s guilty verdict and sentencing of Indonesia’s Tempo magazine Chief Editor Bambang Harymurti. The journalist received a one-year prison sentence for publishing an allegedly libelous article in the weekly last year.

“Today’s ruling is a disturbing setback for Indonesia’s hard-won press freedoms,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “This guilty verdict sends the wrong message to journalists, especially on the eve of the presidential runoff elections. Journalists should never be jailed for their work, and Indonesia’s outdated criminal libel laws should be strucks from the penal code at once.”

Two other journalists from Tempo, reporter Ahmad Taufik and editor Iskandar Ali, were acquitted of criminal libel charges earlier today, according to international news services.

Announcing the acquittal, a judge told the packed court that “the report is still false, but the responsibility should not lie with the reporters but with the chief editor,” The Associated Press reported.

The charges stem from an article published in Tempo last March alleging that prominent businessman Tomy Winata stood to profit from a fire at a textile market he owned. Winata launched as many as six separate legal actions against the magazine in response, even though the article included his denial of any connection to the fire.

Harymurti told reporters that he will appeal today’s ruling, according to international news reports. He is free pending the appeal, despite prosecutors’ requests in July that Harymurti be immediately imprisoned at the time of the court’s decision.