Tue, 16 Sep 2003

'Tempo' charged with violating 'primitive' law

Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The trial of Tempo journalists accused of defaming businessman Tomy Winata started at the Central Jakarta District Court on Monday, with the prosecution charging Bambang Harymurti, Ahmad Taufik and Iskandar Ali of violating Article 14(1) of the 1946 Criminal Code.

Monday's trial was the latest in a total of eight legal cases resulting from a story published by the weekly in March, which implied that Tomy could have benefited from the devastating February 2003 fire at the Tanah Abang Market in Central Jakarta.

The article in question apparently angered supporters of Tomy Winata, who responded by besieging the Tempo office and allegedly attacking several of its journalists on March 8 inside the newsroom.

If found guilty of deliberately publishing a news report to provoke unrest, the defendants could face up to 10 years in jail.

During separate hearings at the Central Jakarta District Court, the prosecutors also charged the three with violating Articles 310 and 311 of the Criminal Code on defamation, which carries a maximum penalty of four years in prison if the defendants cannot provide evidence to substantiate their report.

In 1999, articles 310 and 311 were added to the 1946 Criminal Code.

Bambang Harymurti, who is the weekly's chief editor, asked the court to exonerate reporter Ahmad Taufik from all charges, saying "a reporter cannot be prosecuted because of a story the reporter wrote as the decision to run the story or not is in the hands of the editors".

Citing Law No. 40/1999 on the media, Bambang said that any prosecution of media people should be based on whether or not a journalist had followed the proper procedures in gathering the materials for a story and in publishing it.

"How can anyone put the content of an article on trial ... there is no such thing as an absolute truth ... People should not be jailed for expressing their opinion. The failure to use the media law in this case is not only an insult to the press, but also shows that the country is still using primitive laws," he said.

Presiding judge Andriani Nurdin adjourned the hearings to hear the defense statements on Sept. 29.

Meanwhile, at the South Jakarta District Court, the trial of the managing editor of Jakarta-based Rakyat Merdeka daily, Supratman, was postponed because presiding judge Zoeber Djajadi was still out of town.

The hearing would resume on Wednesday to hear the prosecutor's sentence demand against the defendant.

Supratman is charged with insulting the president and vice president by publishing four front page articles on the government's policies, a violation of a Criminal Code article that carries a maximum penalty of 16 months in jail.

Earlier this year, the daily ran articles with eye-catching headlines -- mostly quotes by antigovernment demonstrators -- such as Mulut Mega bau solar (Mega's mouth smells of diesel fuel), which was accompanied by a picture depicting a fat woman drinking diesel fuel and Mega lebih kejam dari Sumanto (Mega is crueler than Sumanto), referring to a notorious Javanese cannibal now in jail in Central Java.

In a related development, Rakyat Merdeka's former chief editor, Karim Paputungan, appealed his sentence of five months probation also handed down the South Jakarta District Court.

The judges declared Karim guilty of criminal besmirchment of Golkar Party chairman Akbar Tandjung after a caricature of him with his shirt off was published after his guilty verdict for his role in a Rp 40 billion (US$4.8 million) corruption case that took place in 1999. Akbar remains free pending the Supreme Court's hearing of his appeal.