Subject: Journalists Demand Defamation Law Reform at Yogya Seminar
The Jakarta Post
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Press calls for defamation law reform
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
Participants at a defamation seminar hosted by ARTICLE 19 and the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) in Yogyakarta are calling on countries in the region to abolish criminal defamation laws and to reform their civil defamation laws to bring them into line with international standards.
They also pledged to work nationally and regionally to combat the widespread abuse of these laws to prevent critical reporting.
"Defamation laws, both criminal and civil, are roundly abused around the region to suppress freedom of expression and criticism of officials and other powerful social actors," said Toby Mendel, senior director of law at ARTICLE 19.
"There is an urgent need to abolish criminal defamation laws and to revise civil defamation laws so that they exert less of a chilling effect of freedom of expression."
AJI is committed to continuing to work with its partners, local, regional and international, to achieve these objectives and to provide legal defense to its members, the alliance's chair Heru Hendratmoko said.
The meeting, held on 9-10 May, brought together groups working on freedom of expression and media freedom internationally, regionally -- including from Cambodia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Timor Leste -- and from around Indonesia.
A key focus of the meeting was to develop a plan of action for groups working on these issues. The plan includes both regional and national activities.
Key elements of the regional plan are to promote cooperation and solidarity among groups working on these issues and to further develop regional mechanisms for the protection of freedom of expression.
The national plans include promotion of strategic litigation to narrow the scope of defamation laws; building strong constituencies of support to achieve legislative reform of defamation laws; fostering awareness of existing legal defense tools for those charged with defamation; and building capacity among journalists to report more professionally so as to avoid falling foul of the defamation laws.
The participants also took advantage of the occasion to express solidarity with Yogyakarta journalist Risang Bima Wijaya, currently serving a six-month sentence, by visiting him at Cebongan Prison in Yogyakarta.
ARTICLE 19 is working with AJI and LBH Pers, a legal group, on a constitutional challenge in Risang's case, arguing imprisonment for defamation is a breach of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression.