ETLJB 14 March 2013 Amnesty International issued a press release on 13 March 2013 saying that 2 journalists in East Timor are at risk of imprisonment for exposing corruption.
According to AI, all charges must be dropped against two Timorese journalists facing prison sentences for exposing alleged corruption in their country’s judicial system.
A court in Timor-Leste’s capital Dili is set to deliver its verdict against Oscar Maria Salsinha of the Suara Timor Lorosa’e newspaper and Raimundo Oki of the Independente newspaper today, 14 March. The two reporters are accused of “slanderous denunciations”, which carries a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment or a fine.
The charges stem from separate articles Salsinha and Oki wrote on 31 December 2011 and 2 January 2012, both on the suspected involvement of a District Prosecutor in receiving a bribe in a traffic accident case which occurred on 18 October 2011.
“These two journalists have done nothing but their job and exercised their right to freedom of expression by reporting on possible corruption in the judicial system,” Isabelle Arradon, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director said.
“If they are convicted, it could set a dangerous precedent for journalists and human rights defenders in Timor-Leste, where the legal system could be used to silence critical voices. It would also send a chilling signal on wider issues of freedom of expression and the media in the country.
“While everyone has the right to protection against unlawful attacks on their reputation, this should be a matter for civil litigation, not criminal law.
“If the two men are convicted and imprisoned tomorrow, Amnesty International would call for their immediate and unconditional release.”
The two journalists have been charged with violating Article 285 of the Timor-Leste Penal Code criminalizing “slanderous denunciations”.
Such legal provisions are incompatible with full respect for and proper protection of freedom of expression as provided for in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Timor-Leste ratified in 2003, as well as the Timor-Leste Constitution.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) has criticized the use of criminal defamation charges as a means of repressing freedom of expression and has explained that charges related to defamation, libel and slander should be dealt with by the authorities under civil, not criminal, law and that there should not be prison sentences for such charges.
The UN Human Rights Committee has also stressed that imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty in such cases.
ETLJB Editor's Note: Informal information suggests that the case against the journalists has been dismissed by the Court.
Penal Code provisions on defamation threaten democracy in Timor-Leste2009 ETLJ 4 Defamation - a Crime or Not in Timor-Leste? A Legal Analysis on the East Timor Law Journal
Lao Hamutuk Statement on the Defamation Case against East Timor's Media
East Timor Press Freedom and Defamation in relation to the Applicable Law
Criminal Defamation in East Timor - A Miscarriage of Justice
Short Analysis of UNTAET Executive Order No 2 of 2002 on the Decriminalisation of Defamation
UNTAET Executive Order decriminalising defamation
Source: AI Press Release 13 March 2013. Edited by Warren L. Wright
Kindly see the analysis on the previous story relating to these journalists.
It should be a civil issue - that is slander/libel - but the defamation in the Timorese Penal Code is more akin to promoting a malicious prosecution against someone (but also includes elements of slander/defamation), knowingly spreading false information publicly/before relevant authorities with the intent that the defamed individual be formally prosecuted relating to that information. With this in mind, it will be nearly impossible to convict journalists using this provision - even if they have done it- because of the onerous requirements to prove their knowledge of false hood and intent to see criminal proceedings initiated which are both necessary under the Penal Code. Truth is always the absolute defence in all such cases regardless, and there doesn't seem to have been a chilling effect to date since these journalists pursued their course of action despite having seen their fellow journalists pursued by former ministers in the past.
In this case, Amnesty could, and should, provide a more reasoned analysis of the actual legal provisions with concrete measures/recommendations to fix it, rather than a issuing a press release which over simplifies the issue and conftibutes to an ill-informed, if not confused debate.
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