Joint Letter on Defamation
Case against Usman Hamid of KontraS
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
U.S. Department of State
2201 C St., N.W.
Washington, DC 20520
November 23, 2009
Dear Secretary Clinton,
We are non-governmental organizations long concerned with human
rights and democracy in Indonesia. We are writing to express our concern
defamation case filed against Usman Hamid, Coordinator of
Commission for Disappeared and Victims of Violence (KontraS) and a
prominent human rights defender. Criminal defamation charges carry a
maximum sentence of up to four years imprisonment; longer if the subject
of the alleged defamation is a government official. The complaint arises
from his involvement in the campaign for justice for his murdered
colleague, Munir Said Thalib, who was poisoned on September 7, 2004.
At the time, Munir was the leading human rights defender in
Indonesia. His murder and the failure to prosecute the case effectively
have fueled an atmosphere of intimidation which constrains the effective
promotion of human rights in Indonesia. The Department of State's
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices have consistently noted the
absence of effective prosecution of this case.
The Indonesian legal system should not be
employed to intimidate human rights advocates.
Their work is crucial. For too many years those
responsible for gross human rights violations
have escaped accountability, especially those
with command responsibility levels of military
We urge that the U.S. government communicate to the Indonesian
government at the most senior level its concern that the criminal
proceedings against Mr. Hamid set a dangerous precedent for the rule of
law in Indonesia. The Indonesian legal system should not be employed to
intimidate human rights advocates. Their work is crucial. For too many
years those responsible for gross human rights violations have escaped
accountability, especially those with command responsibility levels of
military and police.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, at the time of his first
inauguration as President in 2004 called the resolution of the Munir
killing "a test of our history in the context of Indonesia's democratic
reform." He set up an independent Fact-Finding Team to investigate the
murder and appointed Mr. Hamid to it. Although three people have been
convicted for their involvement in the murder, more senior figures, the
intellectual authors of the assassination, remain at large.
Muchdi Purwopranjono -- a deputy at the State Intelligence Agency
(BIN) at the time of Munir's murder and a former senior official in
Indonesia's notorious military special forces ("Kopassus") -- was
acquitted on December 31, 2008, of charges of soliciting and assisting
in the murder. Local and international human rights groups criticized
his trial as violating international standards.
Committee in Solidarity with Munir (KASUM) -- in
a report to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights
Defenders -- noted that Muchdi's trial was marred by the systematic
retraction of sworn statements by key witnesses and the presence of
organized groups seeking to influence the trial. KASUM's report
concluded that "the Indonesian justice system is not yet able to
effectively prosecute senior officials with powerful connections, due to
weak prosecution capacity and witness intimidation." It called Muchdi's
acquittal "a setback for the enforcement of human rights and the
protection of other human rights defenders more broadly." Recently,
information has surfaced concerning possible corruption in the
prosecutors office related to the trial.
Following his acquittal, Muchdi announced that he would file a
complaint of criminal defamation against Mr. Hamid, Munir's widow
Suciwati, and two other human rights defenders. Suciwati, who testified
at the trial, met with you during your visit to Indonesia earlier this
year. She has also met with members of the U.S. Congress about the her
To date, Muchdi has filed a formal complaint only against Mr. Hamid.
On September 3, 2009, Mr. Hamid was summoned to the Jakarta Police
Headquarters, and the police investigation of his case is pending.
Indonesia's criminalization of defamation with the threat of
imprisoning human rights defenders and others, is an unacceptable
restriction of the right to freedom of expression. These charges clearly
are meant to intimidate human rights defenders and hinder their
important work in violation of the United Nations Declaration on Human
Rights Defenders and the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by
the Indonesian Constitution.
Unfortunately, Mr. Hamid's case is not exceptional. Human rights
advocates and those seeking to end corruption are regularly targeted for
intimidation through the use of Indonesia's flawed legal system. In
addition to Mr. Hamid, at least six others face criminal defamation
charges as a result of their work: Emerson Yuntho and Illian Deta Arta
Sari (Indonesia Corruption Watch); Gatot (Commission of National
Solidarity - KSN, Komisi Solidaritas Nasional); Suryani (Glasnot
Ponorogo); Dadang Iskandar (Gunung Kidul Corruption Watch); and Itce
Julinar (Angkasa Pura Trade Union). Many additional activists have been
investigated or charged in recent years. International Corruption Watch
has compiled a list of 18 anti-corruption activists reported to the
police and in some cases prosecuted. Moreover, dozens of journalists
have been investigated under a variety of criminal code provisions,
including criminal defamation.
This abuse of the law creates a chilling atmosphere aimed at stifling
dissent and preventing reform of a system that continues to afford
impunity to those, especially in the security forces, who are guilty of
human rights and other crimes, including torture, murder, and enforced
disappearances of human rights defenders.
After her June 2007 visit to Indonesia, the
UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of
Human Rights Defenders, Hina Jilani, wrote she was disturbed by the
large number of human rights defenders who faced intimidation as a
consequence of "activities that are legitimately a part of their
function for the defense of human rights." She recommended that
"legislation and procedures be instituted to prevent such prosecutions."
Special Representative Jilani called the Munir case as "a test of the
Government's will to protect defenders in the country," adding that
"lapses in the conclusion of this case would make all human rights
defenders throughout the country insecure." She urged the release of the
Fact-Finding Team's report and action on its recommendations. That
investigation, conducted in conjunction with the national police, had
revealed extensive communication between the convicted murderer and a
phone belonging to Muchdi.
Given the concerns prompted by these developments, we urge the U.S.
government to press the Indonesian government to undertake the
- Ensure that Mr. Hamid and other human rights defenders as well
as journalists in Indonesia are not targeted through criminal
defamation because of their legitimate work;
- Publish the report of the Fact-Finding Team into Munir's murder;
- Ensure that the Indonesian police continue to pursue efforts to
identify those responsible at the highest level for Munir's murder;
- Investigate indications of witness tampering and intimidation in
the trial of Muchdi Purwopranjono;
- End the culture of impunity for senior security and other
officials by effective investigation of past human rights violations
especially against human rights defenders in Indonesia, and by
prosecution of those responsible for these crimes;
- Repeal laws concerning criminal defamation for those who
criticize public officials;
- Develop special legal mechanisms that protect of human rights
defenders and journalists in Indonesia.
Finally, although the U.S. Department of State's 2009 annual human
rights country report series correctly notes the use of defamation
charges to intimidate journalists, the annual report should also note
the use of such suits targeting non-governmental organizations and
individuals engaged in defense of human rights, anti-corruption and
other reform work.
East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN)
West Papua Advocacy Team
cc: Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell
Assistant Secretary Michael
Posner members of Congress
see also Take Action: Human Rights First:
Demand End to Intimidation of Indonesian Activist Seeking Justice