Thu, 02 Oct 2003

'Tomy Winata's lawsuit unlawful'

M. Taufiqurrahman, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

In front of a court attended by a number of prominent community figures and outspoken political activists, the East Jakarta District Court heard on Wednesday the defense team representing media icon Goenawan Mohamad, which underlined in their argument that the libel suit filed by businessman Tomy Winata against their client was unlawful.

Former president Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid, noted sociologists Imam Prasodjo and Ignas Kleden, and economist Faisal Basri attended the hearing in a show of support for Goenawan and the Tempo media group, against what they called "a threat to press freedom through thuggery".

They denounced attempts by individuals with financial clout to bully judges into rule in favor of their interests.

At the hearing, the defense appealed to the court that the libel suit against their client was obscure and unlawful, as was the court's issuing a preventive seizure order against Goenawan's house in Pulo Mas, East Jakarta, and the office building of Koran Tempo daily on Jl. Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta.

The two properties were seized as collateral for Tomy's demand for Rp 21 billion (US$24.7 million) in compensation.

The defense argued that the seizure of Tempo's property contradicted a Supreme Court ruling. The ruling in question stipulates that seizures cannot be executed against a property owned by a third party -- Koran Tempo is the lessee of an office building that is the individual property of Husein Astrawinata.

Lawyer Darwin Aritonang also said that Koran Tempo daily was not the only newspaper that could be accused of defamation, as other media publications in the country ran the statement by Goenawan that was at the center of the legal dispute.

Aritonang also indicated that the suit was flawed from the outset, as Goenawan's legal status was unclear.

"It mentions him as an individual, a senior editor of Tempo and a respected figure of the national press. Which of these labels is the correct one?"

Tomy filed a civil suit against Koran Tempo and Goenawan on June 5, 2003, over news articles published on March 12 and March 13, one of which was titled Don't let the country fall into the hands of thugs/TW.

The court approved Tomy's request to seize Goenawan's house as collateral, while the South Jakarta District Court is set to seize the Koran Tempo office building on Thursday at around 10 a.m., despite the objection filed by the defendants.

East Jakarta District Court head Sjarnubi defended the court's decision to seize Koran Tempo's property, which was taken almost immediately, saying: "We could issue a seizure order even before the request for it is presented to panel of judges."

Gus Dur: Tomy must be stopped

In a courtroom teeming with journalists and supporters of press freedom, former president Abdurrahman "Gus Dur" Wahid stated his case clearly on Wednesday that efforts by businessman Tomy Winata to threaten press freedom had to be stopped.

"Who in the world does he think he is, that he thinks he can abuse the law for his own interests?" he said.

Gus Dur said that aside from Tomy's effort to exploit the country's legal system, he also had to be stopped from conducting shadowy business dealings.

"This is why I tried to put him in jail while I was still in power," Gus Dur told the cheering audience.

During his administration, Gus Dur once ordered the arrest of Tomy for allegedly running a gambling den aboard ships in the Thousands Islands regency, off the north coast of Jakarta.

Tomy escaped prosecution, as there was not enough evidence to support the charge.

Flanked by Tempo co-founder Goenawan Mohamad and chief editor Bambang Harymurti, Gus Dur called on the panel of judges to uphold the law, despite the bullying from those with financial power.

Gus Dur had barely finished his last sentence when East Jakarta District Court deputy head Zarkasri entered the courtroom and asked him to meet Sjarnubi.

Looking irritated, Gus Dur left the gathering and the court, to the surprise of everyone in the courtroom. It is not known what transpired in the interview between Gus Dur and Sjarnubi. -- JP