16 March 2013

Two journalists fined $150 for "slanderous denunciation"

ETLJB 16 March 201 - The two East Timorese journalists who were charged under country's penal code for slanderous denunciation (defamation) of a public prosecutor have been found not guilty of the charges but have each fined US150 by the Dili District Court on Thursday, 14 March 2013 as civil compensation for the public prosecutor in question.

The journalists had faced up to three years in jail after the publications they worked for (Independente and Suara Timor Lorosae) published reports in December 2011 and January 2012 about a traffic accident case in the District of Oecusse that alleged that the public prosecutor dealing with the case had accepted a bribe in the course of his duties relating to the investigation and prosecution of the driver of the motor vehicle which left  dead after a collision.
The judge said prosecutors failed to prove that the news published by two journalists had harmed the prosecutor materially. "Oscar Maria Salsinha and Raimundos Oki are sentenced to pay a fine of $ 150 each," said the judge, in a room full of Timorese journalists who stood and applauded the judge's decision regarding their colleagues who avoided a prison sentence. In the same judgment, the individual who passed the information about the alleged bribe received by the prosecutor, the news source for journalists, was sentenced to a suspended sentence of one year and ordered to pay a fine of $150.

"I am pleased with the court's decision. But I'm sad because of compensation because we were just reporting the news," said Lusa Raimundos Oki, a journalist from the Independente newspaper.

Oscar Maria Salsinha, from the Suara Timor Lorosae just said he was "happy" with the judge's decision. The representative of the Association of Journalists of Timor-Leste, Tito Filipe, said the judge's decision was fair and asked the parliament and the Timorese judicial system to "eliminate slanderous denunciation from the criminal code as it applies to journalists."

According to the East Timorese Penal Code, the crime of  "slanderous denunciation" is applied to "those who, by any means, before an authority or public, aware of the falsity of the imputation, cast upon a particular person suspicion of a crime, with the intention that he/she be prosecuted. " The code also states that if the person was not "aware of the falsity of the accusation" then the aggrieved can seek compensation under civil liability.

The prosecution said it would appeal the decision. Sources: LUSA, JSMP Press Release 15/03/2013. Edited by Warren L. Wright

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Penal Code provisions on defamation threaten democracy in Timor-Leste 2009 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

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