Attacks on the Press 2006: Asia Snapshots

Attacks & Developments Throughout the Region


• Military police arrested Hem Choun, a reporter with the Khmer-language newspaper Samrek Yutethor, as he reported June 7 on the government’s eviction of squatters in the village of Sombok Chab, 11 miles (18 kilometers) outside Phnom Penh. The Cambodian Center for Human Rights said authorities refused to recognize Choun as a journalist. A Phnom Penh judge charged Choun with wrongful damage of property and denied bail.

• Legislation eliminating prison terms for defamation was passed into law on June 23. Terms had ranged up to one year. Criminal defamation laws remained in effect, punishable by fines of 1 million to 10 million riels (US$255 to US$2,550).

• On July 14, the government filed a criminal defamation case against Dam Sithek, publisher of the Khmer-language Moneakseka newspaper, for allegedly publishing false information. The case stemmed from a June 13 article that accused the government of corruption and described a power struggle within the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, according to the Alliance for Freedom of Expression in Cambodia.

• Despite Prime Minister Hun Sen’s announcement that charges would be dropped, a Phnom Penh court left criminal defamation cases intact against three journalists: Mom Sonando, head of Sambok Khmum (Beehive Radio); Kem Sokha, a radio commentator and president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights; and Pa Guon Tieng, a journalist and activist. Each had been jailed for criticizing a new border treaty with Vietnam. They were released on bail on January 18 amid international pressure, but the cases were pending throughout the year.

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• Members of an Australian peacekeeping force manhandled and detained for four hours Jose Belo, a freelance cameraman working for The Associated Press in Dili. The AP said the Australian troops treated Belo in a “violent and disrespectful” manner during the June 10 incident. Belo was released only after non-Timorese AP reporters intervened. Belo told the AP that Australian forces handcuffed him, refused to let him film, and seized his camera, mobile phone, and other equipment.

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• The South Jakarta District Court dismissed charges against Teguh Santosa for publishing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad in February. Judges ruled in September that the case was too weak to bring to trial. Santosa, editor of Rakyat Merdeka’s online edition, faced up to five years in prison on charges of defaming Islam. Santosa removed the drawing from the Web site and issued a public apology after local Muslim groups protested.

• Herliyanto, a freelance reporter with the Radar Surabaya, and Jimber News Visioner newspapers, was found dead with numerous stab wounds on April 29 in a wooded area near the town of Banyuanyar in East Java province. The Alliance of Independent Journalists said Herliyanto was investigating corruption allegations involving school construction funds in the village of Tulupari. CPJ confirmed that Herliyanto, who, like many Indonesians, used only one name, was killed because of his work as a journalist. On September 26, Probolinggo police arrested three men suspected of involvement in the murder and identified four additional suspects.

• In February, the Indonesian Supreme Court overturned the 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 statutes 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, subsequently launched several civil and criminal actions against the magazine.

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• An unidentified man hurled a Molotov cocktail at the headquarters of Japan’s largest business daily, Nihon Keizai Shimbun. No one was hurt in the July 21 attack. Police investigated the possibility that the attack was motivated by the newspaper’s exclusive story about the late Emperor Hirohito’s refusal to visit the Yasukuni Shrine after it began honoring 14 convicted war criminals in 1978.

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• Three newspapers in Malaysia faced penalties related to the publication of controversial cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. In February, the government ordered the indefinite suspension of the publishing license of the English-language Sarawak Tribune and began a criminal investigation of its staff. The Chinese-language Berita Petang Sarawak and Guangming Ribao were each suspended for two weeks.

• The Malaysian Ministry of Information in June ordered the Chinese-language radio program “The Mic Is On, With Love, Without Obstacles” to restructure its format and stop live broadcasts after it aired listeners’ views about a controversial government order affecting Chinese-language schools.

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• Internet journalist Ahmed Didi was released from house arrest and pardoned in February, four years after receiving a life sentence because of his work. Didi, a founder of the Dhivehi-language Internet publication Sandhaanu, was arrested in February 2002 and held for several months in solitary confinement before being sentenced on charges of defamation, incitement to violence, and treason. Didi was charged with “insulting” Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, calling for the overthrow of the government, causing hatred against the government, and spreading false news.

• A reporter with the opposition newspaper Minivan Daily was sentenced to life imprisonment in April on drug charges. Colleagues believe that Abdullah Saeed, known as Fahala, was framed and unfairly tried by a judiciary that is largely controlled by President Gayoom, who has ruled since 1978. Under international pressure, the Maldivian government made gestures toward democratic reform by allowing nongovernmental publications to operate on a limited basis in the country, but continued to harass, detain, and prosecute journalists sympathetic to the opposition Maldivian Democracy Party.

• Authorities detained and expelled Phillip Wellman, an American reporter working for the online newspaper Minivannews, and Graham Quick, a British freelance photographer working for London’s Observer. The Minivan publishing group is closely associated with the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party. “They were asked to leave because their activities were not in line [with what] could be attributed to journalism,” Foreign Minister Ahmed Saeed said after the November 3 action. The two journalists, traveling together, were covering the arrests of Maldivian Democratic Party activists on the southern Gaaf Dhall atoll, Wellman reported.

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• On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, CPJ named North Korea the world’s Most Censored Country. All domestic radio, television, and newspapers are controlled by the government. Radio and television receivers are locked to government-specified frequencies. Content is supplied almost entirely by the official Korean Central News Agency, which serves up a daily diet of fawning coverage of “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il and his official engagements. The country’s grinding poverty is never mentioned. Only small numbers of foreign journalists are allowed limited access each year, and they must be accompanied by “minders” wherever they go.

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• Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his father, Lee Kuan Yew, filed criminal defamation charges in May against politicians responsible for the production of an opposition-run newspaper, The New Democrat. The Lees’ lawyers also threatened to file defamation charges against Melodies Press Co., which prints the paper. The government in Singapore uses criminal and civil defamation charges to stifle criticism and independent reporting.

• The state-owned tabloid Today canceled in July the column of Lee Kin Mun, who writes under the name Mr. Brown. Lee, a well-known blogger in Singapore, wrote a satirical column in June headlined, “S’poreans Are Fed Up with Progress!” that criticized the government for announcing hikes in transportation and electricity costs only after May’s general elections.

• On September 28, the government revoked the Far Eastern Economic Review‘s right to distribute in the city-state. The Ministry of Information, Communications, and Arts said the Hong Kong-based monthly failed to appoint a legal representative and post a 200,000 Singapore dollar (US$129,000) security bond, as required by new regulations covering foreign publications. The action came a month after the prime minister and his father filed a civil lawsuit against the Far Eastern Economic Review alleging that they were defamed in a July story about opposition politician Chee Soon Juan. Damages would be set by a judge. In similar cases, Singapore’s leaders have won hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation from political opponents and news publications.

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