Attacks on the Press 2007: Asia Snapshots

Attacks & developments throughout the region

East Timor



• Proposed legislation would give the federal police commissioner power to unilaterally block Internet content that he or she “has reason to believe … is a crime or terrorist related.” The bill was introduced in the Senate on September 13 by Helen Coonan, a congresswoman and Australia’s minister for communications. Its sponsors argued that the bill was aimed mainly at controlling pornography and criminal activities on the Web, but critics said it would give federal police broad discretionary power to consider whether online information threatened national security. The bill defined offending content as that which “encourages, incites or induces” or is “likely to have the effect of facilitating” an offense against the commonwealth. Police would be empowered to order the Australian Communications and Media Agency to censor specific Web sites and require individual Internet service providers to “take reasonable steps” to block content blacklisted by the authorities.

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• Unidentified men attacked the office of the country’s leading daily, Suara Timor Lorosa’e, on August 4. The precise motive behind the attack was unclear, although the Timor Lorosa’e Journalists Association said the newspaper may have been targeted by political partisans. Suara Timor Lorosa’e was perceived to favor the party of independence leader Xanana Gusmao. Political tensions were running high in the country after parliamentary elections in June ended with no party winning an absolute majority.

• A report on the June elections issued by the Solidarity Observer Mission for East Timor (SOMET), a nonpartisan association of local and international nongovernmental organizations, expressed concern about the climate for press freedom. “Some Timorese journalists at times felt pressured to cover (or not to cover) certain political issues or to advance a particular political perspective,” according to SOMET.

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• In September, the Supreme Court ordered Time magazine to pay more than US$100 million in damages and to print apologies to the family of former President Suharto. In May 1999, the magazine, owned by Time Warner Inc., ran a cover story alleging Suharto and his family had amassed a fortune of around US$15 billion, which Suharto and his family denied. Time had prevailed in lower courts.

• In November, an Australian coroner’s inquest found that five Australian journalists were deliberately killed in 1975 by Indonesian armed forces seeking to prevent them from reporting on Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor. The killings may qualify as war crimes under the Geneva Conventions and Australian law, according to the report by Dorelle Pinch, deputy coroner for the state of New South Wales. Pinch referred the case to Australian Attorney General Philip Ruddock. The Indonesian government said the journalists were accidentally killed in crossfire.

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• Police interrogated popular Internet-based writer Raja Petra Kamarudin, founder of the Malaysia Today news Web site, for eight hours on July 25. United Malays National Organization officials said the site had published material the government perceived as an insult to Islam and an attempt to stir racial tensions. Raja Petra said police questioned him not about the articles he had written but about reader comments posted on his site. “The bottom line is, what you post in the comments section may get me sent to jail under the Sedition Act,” the journalist wrote to his readers.

• On August 24, the government ordered the monthlong closure of Makkal Osai, a Tamil-language newspaper, for publishing a picture of Jesus holding a cigarette and what appeared to be a can of beer. The Internal Security Ministry suspended the paper’s publication permit after the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), a predominantly Hindu Tamil political party that is part of the ruling coalition, called for strong action against the paper. Makkal Osai had been critical in its coverage of the MIC, which owns a rival paper. Makkal Osai published the illustration on August 21, as part of the daily’s regular “Thought for the Day” feature, which highlights famous quotations from world leaders and philosophers. The accompanying quote read: “If someone repents for his mistakes, then heaven awaits him.” The newspaper said that it had printed the illustration mistakenly, and it published a front-page apology the next day.

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• The criminal charge of “disobedience of an order” against Minivan Daily Deputy Editor Nazim Sattar was dropped on May 3, World Press Freedom Day, and charges against editor Aminath Najeeb were reduced. The two were facing trial on a criminal complaint related to an August 2005 article quoting opposition activist Ahmed Abbas, whose statements were alleged to have incited violence against the police; Abbas was jailed in connection with the statement. Najeeb still faced jail time on the pending charge.

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• Attacks and threats against journalists by protesters in southern Nepal in January and early February inhibited coverage of unrest in the area. Several journalists were forced from their homes because of the harassment. The ethnic Madheshi people, who live in the southern plains, accused the media of biased coverage. The Madheshi People’s Rights Forum threatened Bedraj Poudel, a correspondent for the daily Kantipur, by phone, saying the group would kill him, the paper reported. Several journalists were beaten during protests, including photojournalist Ram Sarraf in the city of Birgunj, the Federation of Nepali Journalists said.

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• On June 19, CPJ wrote to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, calling on him to review a U.N. policy that refuses accreditation to journalists from states not recognized by the General Assembly. Journalists from Taiwan, who are most affected by the policy, were excluded from covering the World Health Organization annual assembly on May 14. On June 24, when asked at a U.N. press briefing about CPJ’s letter, Michele Montas, a U.N. spokeswoman, said the policy reflected the wishes of the General Assembly.

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• Journalist Nguyen Vu Binh was freed on June 9 after nearly five years in prison. CPJ and other international organizations had appealed for Binh’s release based on his deteriorating health. The release was announced as part of an amnesty orchestrated by Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet prior to a meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush. According to state media reports, Binh was jailed because he had “written and exchanged, with various opportunist elements in the country, information and materials that distorted the party and state policies.” He was also accused of communicating with “reactionary” organizations abroad. Binh had worked for almost 10 years at the official publication Tap Chi Cong San (Journal of Communism).

• Authorities detained French journalist Nguyen Thi Thanh Van and three activists with the pro-democracy Viet Tan party for nearly four weeks. She and the others were arrested by security officials during a meeting with local democracy activists at a private residence in Ho Chi Minh City, according to a source associated with the Viet Tan party. The four were released on December 12 after international protests. Thanh Van, also known by her pen name Thanh Thao, is a journalist for the exile-run monthly Viet Nam Dan Chu (Vietnam Democracy) and a regular contributor to the Japan- and U.S.-based “Chan Troi Moi” (Radio New Horizon) program. She and the political activists had been held on terrorism-related charges.