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Media freedom under attack as newsmen jailed BANDARLAMPUNG - Media freedom in Indonesia is on the brink of ruin, with two senior journalists in Lampung being sentenced to nine months in jail for defamation. The verdicts on Wednesday are hurtful to democracy, moreover coming on the heels of government efforts to produce a new Criminal Code that will be detrimental to freedom of expression, a legal expert commented.

The two journalists, Darwin Ruslinur and Budiono Syahputra, received the jail terms after they were found guilty of defaming Alzier Dianis Thabranie, chairman of Golkar Party's Lampung chapter. The case surfaced last year when defendant Budiono, the managing editor of Koridor weekly tabloid, was informed by an anonymous Golkar member that Alzier and his colleague Indra Karyadi had yet to disburse an amount of Rp 1.25 billion (US$131,500) to him. The money was supposed to have been distributed by the Golkar member to Golkar supporters. The supporters were to receive Rp 50,000 each during first round of presidential elections last year to encourage them to vote for the presidential candidate backed by Golkar. Darwin Ruslinur, the tabloid's chief editor, said that the case was newsworthy and that should be printed.

The news article, printed on page 18 of the tabloid's July edition last year, was headed "Alzier and Indra Karyadi allegedly embezzle Rp 1.25b Golkar fund". At Wednesday's court session, presiding judge Iskandar Tjake found that the tabloid never confirmed the story with Alzier and Indra Karyadi, and on this basis he decided that the two journalists were guilty of defamation.

Commenting on the verdict, legal expert Hinca Panjaitan stressed in Jakarta on Thursday that the verdict would hurt democracy and the anticorruption drive. The role of the media, according to Hinca, is crucial in the country's fight against widespread corruption. If media freedom is curtailed, the battle against corruption will fade, said Hinca.

Azwar Arifin, the lawyer representing the two journalists, said that the verdict was unfair. The judges should have used the Press Law to decide the fate of the two journalists, as this law focused on prosecuting matters related to the media, rather than the criminal law. As his clients were being sent to jail, Azwar said that they would file an appeal to the high court.

In a separate development, in yet another sign that media freedom was under attack, Bambang Harymurti, the chief editor of Tempo weekly magazine, revealed on Wednesday that last week the high court had upheld a decision by a lower court sentencing him to one year in jail for defaming business tycoon Tommy Winata.

Speaking to the media in Lampung, Bambang regretted the latest decision by the high court, saying that he found inconsistency in the decision. On one hand, the high court judges applied the Press Law, but on the other, they applied criminal law. "The inconsistency is suspicious," said Bambang, saying that he would appeal to the Supreme Court.

In order to prevent journalists from being sent to jail in future, groups of journalists and the Press Council would immediately lobby the House of Representatives (DPR) to reject the controversial draft of the Criminal Code being prepared by the government, said Bambang. If the bill is passed into law by the DPR, it will constitute a serious threat to media freedom as it contains 49 articles that are harmful to freedom of expression and could land journalists in jail, he said.



Posted in Media @ 06 May 2005 00:01 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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