In Indonesia, Tempo editor cleared in criminal libel case

New York, February 10, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists praises the Indonesian Supreme Court’s decision on Thursday to overturn the September 2004 criminal libel conviction of Tempo magazine’s top editor, Bambang Harymurti. The three-judge panel ruled unanimously that civil, and not criminal, laws should apply.

Lower courts had applied criminal law to convict and sentence Harymurti to a one-year prison term in September 2004. The charges stemmed from a March 2003 Tempo article alleging that prominent businessman Tomy Winata stood to profit from a fire at a Jakarta textile market. Winata, who denied any connection to the fire, launched several civil and criminal actions against the magazine.

“This is not my victory but a victory for all Indonesian journalists,” The Jakarta Post quoted Harymurti as saying. Harymurti has been free pending the appeal.

The scope of the court precedent was not immediately clear. Supreme Court Justice Djoko Sarwono said that while the decision was intended to offer journalists protection, it did not establish jurisprudence for other defamation cases involving journalists, according to The Jakarta Post.

“We applaud the court decision’s decision, which should be a landmark for press freedom in Indonesia,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We urge the courts to use the same standard and apply civil remedies in other criminal defamation cases.”