Muzzling Timor’s media


The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the South East Asia Journalist Unions (SEAJU) join international organizations the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Freedom House in calling on the Timor Leste Prime Minister to withdraw the criminal defamation case against a Timor Leste journalist and media outlet, the IFJ reports:

Today, April 22, the IFJ, SEAJU, CPJ and Freedom House sent a letter to Timor Leste Prime Minister, Dr. Rui Maria de Araújo, relating to the criminal defamation case brought before Timor Post journalist, Oki Raimundos (left), former editor Lourenco Vicente Martins, and the Timor Post.

The case against Oki and the Timor Post is based on a published report from November 10, 2015, which contained a factual error on a government tendering process. In accordance with Timor Leste’s own Press Law, the outlet subsequently published a correction and right of reply from the Prime Minister’s office in relation to the story. In spite of this, you have filed a criminal defamation lawsuit that carries potential prison sentences against Oki, Vincente and Timor Post.

An article in The Timor Post on 10 November 2015 which dealt with the letting of government tenders for IT services, has triggered draconian criminal defamation laws against the journalist concerned, writes Jim Nolan (right), a Sydney lawyer who has acted as a pro bono legal adviser to the International Federation of Journalists (Asia Pacific) for many years:

This disturbing development comes at a time when the government in Timor Leste is poised to formally appoint the members of its newly minted Press Council – the key body in a legal framework intended to deal with complaints against the press principally by mediation.  Yet, in this case, this new scheme of press regulation, which has been in the works for several years, was entirely side stepped.

This disregard for the new complaints mechanism is all the more puzzling since the newspaper concerned followed the precepts of the new press law in dealing with the complaint – including by publishing a prominent and timely correction to the one part of the story which contained an error.

Former occupier Indonesia provides a salient lesson in Timor-Leste can do press freedom better, Nolan adds:

Journalists in Indonesia have struggled fiercely since the fall of Suharto to resist and defeat criminal defamation prosecutions, but over the past two decades, criminal defamation cases against Indonesian journalists have steadily declined; so much so, that the last trial, in Makassar in 2010 resulted in the first acquittal in a criminal defamation trial.  The acquittal marked a significant victory for the Indonesian journalists’ campaign – all the more since the complainant at whose behest the charges were pressed was the outgoing Police Commander of South Sulawesi!

Despite the current concerns, Timor-Leste rose four spots to 99 while Indonesia jumped by eight places to 130 in the annual assessment of press freedom in 180 countries (left) released by campaign group Reporters Without Borders this week. Vietnam and Laos both languished near the bottom of the list, with the former at 175 and the latter at 173.

Jim Nolan has attended trials in Indonesia as a legal observer for the IFJ and participated in numerous activities promoting Press Freedom and opposing criminal defamation in Indonesia.  He attended the Prosecutor Generals Office in Dili on Monday April 11, as legal observer on behalf of the IFJ to support Oki. 

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