CPJ condemns use of criminal defamation law

New York, May 6, 2005—Using antiquated criminal laws dating back to Indonesia’s colonial era, a district court in the city of Lampung on the island of Sumatra found two journalists guilty of criminal defamation and sentenced them to nine months in prison on Wednesday. The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned the ruling and the court’s use of outdated criminal codes.

Darwin Ruslinur, chief editor of the weekly tabloid Koridor, and Budiono Saputro, the managing editor, are free pending an appeal scheduled in two weeks, local sources told CPJ.

CPJ called for the verdict to be reversed. “Pressing criminal charges against a reporter is out of step in a democracy,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “This verdict is disturbing, and it sends the wrong message to journalists. Indonesia’s criminal defamation laws must be abolished once and for all.”

The charges stem from a July 2004 article that, citing an unnamed source, accused a local political candidate of embezzling party funds. Lampung District Court Judge Iskandar Tjake found that the two editors did not check the information with the candidate, according to The Jakarta Post, and therefore found them guilty of criminal defamation.

Three journalists from the news magazine Tempo were charged with criminal defamation last year. Editor T. Iskandar Ali and reporter Ahmad Taufik were acquitted of the charges, but chief editor Bambang Harymurti was found guilty and sentenced to one year in jail. Harymurti is free while his appeal works through the court system. He told reporters in Lampung on Wednesday that an appellate court recently upheld the decision against him, but that he planned to appeal to the Supreme Court, The Jakarta Post reported.

Indonesia’s criminal defamation laws are a legacy of the Dutch colonial era and were used to suppress local dissent in the early 20th Century. A draft of a controversial new criminal code currently being reviewed by legislators still allows for the criminal prosecution of journalists for violations such as libel and leaking state secrets, according to the Alliance of Independent Journalists, a local press freedom group.