The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about the growing use of Indonesia's antiquated criminal defamation laws to punish and intimidate journalists who are critical of government officials and other powerful individuals. This alarming trend is eroding hard fought press freedoms in Indonesia, and we call on you to put a stop to these criminal cases.
CPJ is particularly concerned about your charges against Supratman, the executive editor of the daily tabloid Rakyat Merdeka, who was indicted for running four headlines in January that were allegedly offensive to you. His case is currently being heard in the South Jakarta District Court, and a verdict is expected as early as Monday, October 6.
In press interviews, Supratman has noted that there is nothing illegal about criticizing a public figure. He claimed that the headlines reflect the current mood of people demonstrating against your government's policies.
Supratman is charged with violating articles 134 and 137 of the Criminal Code, which make an "intentional insult" of the president or vice president punishable by up to six years in jail and punish "anyone who disseminates, displays, or posts writings or photographs which are offensive to the president or vice president" with up to one year and four months in jail. On September 17, prosecutors in the case urged the court to sentence Supratman to one year in jail.
Meanwhile, we are also concerned about criminal defamation charges against Tempo magazine. Businessman Tomy Winata has filed criminal and civil charges against several Tempo journalists following an article citing allegations that Winata may have stood to profit from a fire at a textile market in February, and that he may have been responsible for it. Winata has filed as many as eight separate legal cases against the magazine, including two criminal cases. Earlier this week, the court ordered the home of Goenawan Mohamad, the co-founder and senior editor of Tempo magazine, seized. According to sources at Tempo, Winata, who requested the court order, filed defamation charges against Mohamad after he made a statement in March calling Winata a "thug."
The press laws in Indonesia's Criminal Code date from the Dutch colonial era, when they were used to suppress dissent. (Even your father Suharto fell victim to these restrictive and unjust laws.) But criminal defamation and sedition laws have no place in a democratic society such as modern-day Indonesia, and serve only to caste your country in a negative light among the world community.
In particular officials, such as yourself, who are at the center of public debate, must endure a higher standard of criticism and should never use these defamation statutes. With elections coming next year, press freedom and public access to opinions and information are critical.
As an independent organization dedicated to the defense of our colleagues worldwide, we urge you, Your Excellency to drop the charges brought against Supratman and to fight for the removal of defamation laws from your country's Criminal Code.
Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We await your reply.
Ann K. Cooper