Sunday, February 12, 2006

Concern over defamation law

I’m now on the United Nations Office in Timor-Leste’s (UNOTIL) Daily Media Review email list, which provides me with invaluable articles from various news sources translated into English about what’s going on in Timor. I’ve decided to include some of the more interesting articles in my posts. The first one concerns the government’s decision to criminalise defamation. However, the President has sent this particular article of the new Penal Code back to the parliament for reconsideration. I do hope that the elected representatives of Timor understand the serious implications of criminalising defamation rather than making it a civil matter.

"Journalists and human-rights organisations within Timor-Leste and internationally are increasingly concerned about the consequences of a new penal code on defamation, which includes the penalty of up to three years’ imprisonment for defaming a public figure. Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri signed an executive decree approving the proposed law in December. It is now waiting to be signed into law by President Xanana Gusmao.
Journalists and legal experts within Timor-Leste are dismayed that the defamation law has got this far without any parliamentary debate or public consultation. According to the South East Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), “The new laws will dissuade journalists from speaking up on good governance and transparency in the conduct of the state affairs” and “It will also stifle the freedom of expression the East Timorese need to participate in and advance their hard-won democracy”.
Under Article 176 of the law, the term of imprisonment for defamation has been doubled from one to two years. In instances where the defamation is both through the media and is deemed to have been committed against individuals performing “public, religious or political duties”, the term of imprisonment is increased to three years. There is no limit on the level of fines that can be imposed.
In the context of Timor-Leste’s relatively new and poorly resourced judiciary and with presidential and national assembly elections due in 2007, SEAPA warned that “Criminal defamation provisions could be misapplied or broadly interpreted, to the detriment of freedom of expression”.
The International Press Institute has written to Gusmao stating its concerns over the law, noting that “in seeking to replace the Indonesian Penal Code, the East Timorese government is merely replacing one repressive law with another”."
Source: Green Left Weekly (from UNOTIL Public Information Office, Daily Media Review).

Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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