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Indonesian Editor Sentenced for Publishing Insults - 2003-10-27

The editor of a popular Indonesian newspaper has been given a six-month suspended sentence for publishing insulting remarks about the president. The verdict is the latest evidence that Indonesia's elite are trying to use the law to muzzle criticism.

The editor of the outspoken newspaper Rakyat Merdeka was given a six-month suspended sentence, after being found guilty of publishing insults about President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Mr. Supratman, who like many Indonesians uses only one name, is the editor of the popular Rakyat Merdeka. The newspaper published a series of stories earlier this year on the mass protests against government-approved fuel, electricity, and basic food price increases.

Many of the protesters carried banners attacking Mrs. Megawati, condemning her as a leech, a cannibal, and in one instance deemed particularly insulting, a person whose breath smelled of diesel.

Adnan Buyung Nasution defended Mr. Supratman in the case, and said his client's conviction has worrying implications for freedom of expression in Indonesia. "In my opinion, it has a far-reaching impact later on," he said, "because people will be hesitant or afraid to give comments or criticism of the government."

Mr. Supratman was found not guilty of directly insulting the president, but was convicted of publishing the insults.

Since censorship ended with the fall of disgraced President Suharto five years ago, Indonesia's media have used their freedom to the full. Many members of the power elite would like to curb their enthusiasm.

Recently, more high profile cases have been brought against journalists and the media. The same paper, Rakyat Merdeka, was found guilty in September of publishing a cartoon insulting the speaker of parliament, who is a convicted thief out on appeal.

It is not only the media who are under fire. Earlier this year an anti-government protester in the northern province of Aceh was jailed for a year for defacing a poster of the president, and another person was jailed for five months for burning her picture.

Mr. Buyung Nasution said his client will appeal the verdict.