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Indonesian Editor Jailed Following Libel Conviction - 2004-09-16


A court in Indonesia has sentenced the editor of a leading media group to a year in prison for libeling a controversial businessman. The case was tried under criminal law, instead of the civil press laws and. The trial has provoked concerns about freedom of the press in Indonesia.

The editor of the influential Tempo media group, Bambang Harymurti, was convicted of libeling businessman Tommy Winata in an article last year. The case has stirred passions among people who believe that it represents an attack on the freedom of the press in Indonesia.

Mr. Harymurti had many supporters in court Thursday, and they booed the verdict, as Judge Suripto read it out. Mr. Harymurti said he would appeal the verdict, and he will not have to go to jail, unless his appeal is rejected.

The court had earlier acquitted the journalists who wrote the article, saying that it was the responsibility of their editor, in this case Mr. Harymurti, to make sure the article was not libelous.

The article dealt with the burning of a market complex in central Jakarta.

There is no libel insurance in Indonesia, and press advocates believe the case will discourage other publications from following Tempo' style of aggressive investigative journalism.

Mr. Harymurti's case also stirred controversy because he was tried under the criminal code, which allowed him to be sentenced to jail. Mr. Harymurti's lawyers had argued for him to be tried under the press laws, which fall under the civil code.

Tempo group, which consists of the newspaper Koran Tempo and Tempo Magazine, has a hard-hitting reputation. It was banned under the regime of the former dictator, Suharto, for writing about a questionable deal involving the military.

The Suharto regime routinely denied basic civil rights for 32 years, and Indonesians are now fiercely protective of their freedoms, including freedom of the press. Since Mr. Suharto's downfall in 1998, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of news outlets.

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