CJFE condemns Sentencing of Bambang Harymurti

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

His Excellency, Eki Syachrudin, Ambassador
The Embassy of Indonesia
55 Parkdale Ave.
Ottawa, Ontario K1Y 1E5, Canada

Excellency,

I am writing on behalf of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), a non-profit, non-governmental organization that works to promote and protect press freedom and freedom of expression around the world.

CJFE strongly condemns the decision of the Central Jakarta Court to sentence Bambang Harymurti, the editor of Tempo magazine, to a year's imprisonment for defamation. We regard such a disproportionate sanction as a serious setback for freedom of expression, reversing gains made since the fall of the Suharto regime. The decision is also an unfortunate development for the broader evolution of democratic values, just as Indonesia celebrates its first direct presidential election.

Bambang Harymurti, along with two Tempo journalists, were sued by businessman Tomy Winata for an article published in the 3-9 March 2003 edition of Tempo, which contained allegations that Tomy Winata stood to profit from a February 2003 fire that destroyed the Tanah Abang textile market in Jakarta and that he might be responsible for the blaze. The decision, based on antiquated criminal defamation laws, acquitted the two journalists, placing sole responsibility on Harymurti and sentencing him to a one-year prison term. Harymurti is free pending an appeal in the case.

In our view, imprisonment for defamation can never be legitimate and, on its own, represents a breach of the right to freedom of expression regardless of the statements which have been challenged. The decision, if not reversed, will undoubtedly have a severe chilling effect on freedom of expression in Indonesia.

Joining other free expression organisations, we call on the Indonesian authorities to withdraw the criminal charges against Harymurti. We also call on the authorities to conduct a complete review of the defamation laws with a view to repealing criminal defamation altogether and to bringing the civil defamation laws into line with international and constitutional standards of respect for freedom of expression.

I look forward to receiving your prompt reply.

Yours truly,

Arnold Amber
President

Case file number: PL04-23

C.C.: Mr. Randolph Mank, Ambassador, the Canadian Embassy to Indonesia
The Hon. Pierre Pettigrew, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs