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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 about the defamation case filed against Usman Hamid, Coordinator of Indonesia's 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 and police.

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.

The Action 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 husband's murder.

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 following:

  • 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






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