Thu, 02 Oct 2003

Use of Press Law urged in 'Tempo' case

Sri Wahyuni and Kurniawan Hari, The Jakarta Post, Yogyakarta/Jakarta

The Press Council and legislators questioned on Wednesday the swift preventive confiscation of some of Tempo media group's properties and proposed that prosecutors use the Press Law instead of the Criminal Code in media-related cases.

"It (the confiscation) has raised a big question mark. It's strange. How could they do it that fast? It simply confirms once again the suspicions of a conspiracy, that the court Mafia really exists," Press Council chairman Ichlasul Amal told The Jakarta Post in Yogyakarta on Wednesday.

Legislators Amin Said Husni and Djoko Susilo of the National Awakening Party (PKB) and the Reform factions expressed similar concerns.

Amin, chairman of the PKB faction, said that judges and prosecutors must uphold the law and be free from intervention.

Djoko, deputy secretary of the Reform faction, added that the unusual process simply highlighted the deficiencies of the country's judicial system.

They were commenting on the legal battle between Koran Tempo daily and businessman Tomy Winata, and the confiscation of Tempo properties.

Tomy filed a civil suit against Koran Tempo daily and Tempo co-founder Goenawan Mohammad on June 5, 2003, over news articles published on March 12 and March 13. Tomy is demanding Rp 21 billion (US$2.47 million) in damages for potential material and non-material losses.

On July 7, Tomy's lawyers withdrew the complaint but refiled it with the same court on Aug. 8. The panel of judges signed a court order for the preventive seizure of Tempo properties on Sept. 25, one week after the plaintiff's lawyers submitted their request.

On Monday, the East Jakarta District Court confiscated Goenawan's house in Pulo Mas, East Jakarta.

"Given the developments in this case, the public will assume that someone powerful out there is controlling our judicial system," Djoko said.

He also criticized the use of the Criminal Code instead of the Press Law to handle the case. According to him, this simply showed the incompetence of the country's legal institution's.

Ichlasul meanwhile said it was urgent that judges and prosecutors be persuaded to use the Press Law instead of the Criminal Code when dealing with cases involving journalists or the media. He argued that such cases were special and were governed by a special law.

He noted that the relatively more democratic system brought about by the reform movement had opened ways for powerful individuals and institutions to restrict or even clamp down on press freedom in the country.

Ichlasul, a former rector of Gadjah Mada University, said that under the authoritarian New Order government, the powerholders could simply ban a publication. Under the present more democratic system, some people were using the law, a legal instrument, to close down newspapers, he added.

"They take advantage of the supremacy of the law. And this can have a much bigger impact (on press freedom) than the authorities in the past ever had," said Ichlasul, citing the preventive seizure of Goenawan's home as an example.

He said that while in the past people could easily point their fingers at the authorities for acting arbitrarily, today it was more difficult to see who was involved in such cases. It could involve many parties, he said, but one thing was sure: they would all be very powerful.

Ichlasul also underlined the need for changes to the Criminal Code through the taking take out of articles related to the press and their incorporation into the Press Law instead.

"This (Press Law) has to be revised and this can be done in tandem with the revision of the Criminal Code itself," Ichlasul said.

The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights has proposed that the Code be revised to include articles criminalizing witchcraft and certain sexual activities.

The Press Council, according to Ichlasul, would hold a meeting next week to discuss the proposed revision of the Press Law to make it more effective as a special law for media-related legal cases.

"We also plan to invite the Minister of Justice and Human Rights to discuss the issues," he said.

The Press Council will also decide whether it will issue an official statement regarding the Tempo case. It has yet to issue one on the ground that the matter is sub judice.