Friday, February 24, 2006

Rights group urges veto of Timor- Leste Defamation Law

"The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) has urged Xanana Gusmao, President of Timor-Leste, to veto the criminal defamation provisions contained in the country’s new Penal Code.

In a letter to President Gusmao, the group wrote "One of the foundations of a democratic society is the ability of its people to speak truth to power. If Timor-Leste's Government tries to suppress such speech, we fear for the future of your democracy and for the future stability of your nation."

"ETAN joins international journalists groups, Timor-Leste journalist and legal associations, East Timorese Catholic clergy, the UN Secretary General, the U.S. Secretary of State and others in urging East Timor's leaders to live up to their constitutional obligation to protect freedom of expression, not limit it," said John M. Miller, National Coordinator of ETAN. " The new nation can only benefit from robust political debate; the proposed defamation provisions will stifle discussion."

East Timor's truth commission (CAVR) has also recommended that defamation not be criminalized.

The complete letter can be found here.

The proposed law would impose unlimited fines for those convicted of criminal defamation. Penalties for defamation through the media are greater, as are penalties (three years in prison) if those defamed are performing "public, religious or political duties." The truth of the statements would not necessarily serve as a defense. Legal analysts say that the penal code would grant greater protection to public officials than to others. Under current law, defamed individuals can sue for civil damages.

East Timor has ratified the major international human rights conventions which guarantee freedoms of speech and the press, incorporating these rights into East Timorese law.
ETAN advocates for democracy, justice and human rights for East Timor and Indonesia. For more information, see ETAN's website."
Source: ETAN
Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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