Saturday, 7 February 2009

Justice in East Timor On Trial in Libel Case

Jakarta Globe

February 6, 2009

Belinda Lopez

Justice in East Timor On Trial in Libel Case

'It's very sad for my country that they keep
using these former invader's laws to prosecute
me. We should have our own laws.'

Jose Bello, Tempo Semanal publisher

East Timor's Justice Minister denies she will
block the long-anticipated removal of Indonesia's
criminal defamation law that is still used in the
fledging nation, despite using it to bring an
action against a journalist who published a
series of articles accusing her of corruption.

Jose Belo, the publisher of the respected
investigative weekly newspaper Tempo Semanal,
will defend his paper against defamation charges
for a series of articles he published in October
last year, accusing Justice Minister Lucia Lobato
of corruption, collusion and nepotism in the
handing out of government tenders.

Belo has been charged under Indonesia's penal
code - in which defamation is a criminal act and
carries a jail sentence - that has mostly been
used in East Timor since it was annexed by
Indonesia in 1975. The country has drafted its
own penal code, which would make defamation a civil matter.

As justice minister, Lobato is responsible for
defending the new law before the country's
Council of Ministers, likely to take place in the
next month, before it is enacted by President
Jose Ramos-Horta. East Timor's government has
long expressed strong support of free speech.

Christopher Henry Samson, head of Labeh, an East
Timorese anticorruption nongovernment
organization, said he was concerned the minister
would now delay the passage of the new penal code
while her own action against Belo was underway.

"The minister knows very well that the [new]
penal code has already taken away criminal
defamation," Samson said. "So why would you use
[the old] penal code to charge criminal defamation against your own

Rosario Martins, a radio journalist and head of
international relations for the East Timor
Journalists Association, said Lobato had been an
advocate of decriminalizing defamation during the
writing of the draft penal law.

"But she is on the way to charging Jose Belo, so
I don't think the defamation law will be changed
as soon as possible," Martins said.

Lobato has strongly denied that her criminal
defamation case against Belo meant she would
attempt to delay the passage of the new penal
code. She said she would schedule to have it
discussed in the Council of Ministers by the end of the month.

Lobato said she had brought both criminal and civil actions against Belo.

"The court will decide based on the law. If we
still have the [Indonesian penal] law that says
defamation is a crime, then he will be tried under that," she said.

If East Timor's penal law is passed before Belo's
trial, she said, "I still have the civil law."

"Me also, if the court decides I am wrong, I will accept the result," she

But Belo said no investigation into the justice
minister herself had been pursued after his newspaper published the story.

"It's very sad for my country, that they keep
using these former invader's laws to prosecute
me. We should have our own laws," he said.

"But even in democratic countries, these
ministers have to be accountable, they have to
investigate at least the allegation of corruption and nepotism itself."

The minister said that Belo had not given her a
right of reply before the article was published,
contrary to Tempo Semanal's claims.

"They should take into consideration the
journalists' code of ethics. All of us have a responsibility," she said

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