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For Immediate Release
14 June 1996

Vikram Parekh

Phone: (212) 465-9344, x109

Indonesian Supreme Court Reinstates Ban on Tempo Newsmagazine

U.S. Press Freedom Group Condemns Verdict, Questions Judiciary's Independence

NEW YORK-- The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today denounced the Indonesian Supreme Court's decision to reinstate a two year-old ban on the country's leading newsmagazine, Tempo . The verdict, issued yesterday, reversed earlier decisions by lower courts that found the ban to be arbitrary and unlawful.

"By overturning the lower court verdict, the Supreme Court has extinguished one of the few rays of hope for press freedom in Indonesia," said Vikram Parekh, CPJ's Program Coordinator for Asia.

Speaking for the court, Chief Justice Soerdjono said that Indonesian Information Minister Harmoko acted lawfully in banning Tempo because he had already issued six warnings to the magazine for its political coverage. Soerdjono also affirmed that the Information Minister was empowered to revoke publishing licenses, and had no obligation to abide by an Indonesian Press Council recommendation that Tempo be allowed to continue publishing.

Tempo was ordered closed on June 21, 1994 because its content was deemed incompatible with a "healthy and responsible press," for allegedly failing to act in conformity with national press guidelines, and for disregarding prior warnings from the government. The magazine had received warnings earlier that year for covering labor unrest, a corruption scandal involving a Bapindo bank official, salary disparities within the military, and a report that accused the government of underestimating the cost of repairing 39 aging East German navy vessels that it had purchased from the reunified German state. Tempo publisher Goenawan Mohamad subsequently mounted a legal challenge to the ban. To the surprise of many observers, the trial court ruled in his favor on May 3, 1995, as did the Administrative High Court on November 3, 1995. The decision was brought to the Supreme Court on appeal by Harmoko.

"During CPJ's meeting last January with Indonesian Embassy staff in Washington, they pointed to the lower court ruling as evidence that Indonesia was governed by the rule of law," Parekh said. "But yesterday's verdict seems politically motivated, and calls into question the independence of the Indonesian judiciary."

Yesterday's ruling is the second of two major setbacks for press freedom by the country's Supreme Court. On March 27, 1996, the court upheld the prison sentences of three press freedom activists who had been jailed a year earlier for publishing an unlicensed magazine, and exposing the government to "hostility, hatred, and contempt." All three were members of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), an officially unrecognized journalists' union that was formed in response to the banning of Tempo and two other popular news weeklies. CPJ honored one of the jailed journalists, Ahmad Taufik, with its International Press Freedom Award in December 1995.

Based in New York, CPJ is a non-profit, non-partisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide.

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