"Unconstitutional" Defamation Case
Tuesday, 10 March 2009, 12:03 pm
Press Release: Pacific Freedom Forum
Pacific Freedom Forum Petitions Against "Unconstitutional" Defamation Case
For immediate release: Monday, 09 March 2009 –
Attempts by the government of Timor Leste to push
criminal defamation charges against a newspaper
publisher will have "chilling effects" on freedoms of speech.
"East Timor has a choice – it can follow other
states down a well beaten track towards
corruption," states Pacific Freedom Forum interim Chair, Susuve Laumaea.
"Or it can begin a fresh chapter for
resource-rich Pacific Islands by encouraging
robust news reportage – even critical commentary."
José Antonio Belo is being sued for criminal
defamation because of an article he published
alleging corruption by the country's Justice Minister, Lucia Lobato.
In his article, Belo highlighted a contract
between the Justice ministry and that of the
minister's husband, for prison repairs and guard uniforms.
The PFF strongly condemns attempts to limit
freedoms of speech in any country and has begun a
petition online to back up an earlier effort by
the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism.
"Freedoms of speech are laid down in concrete
terms in East Timor," says PFF co-chair Monica Miller.
"We shouldn't have to remind the democratically
elected representatives of Timor Leste about what
is set down in black and white in their own
constitution – the ruling law of the land."
"There are extensive constitutional protections
for freedoms of speech and, unusually, freedom of
the press and mass media," says Miller.
"For the government of East Timor to hide behind
the same colonial laws used by Indonesia to
suppress and intimidate genuine efforts towards
democracy ignores blood sacrifice by thousands of
their own citizens in support of freedom."
The PFF statement comes after the criminal
defamation case was criticised by media workers
and researchers, through the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism.
More than 85 signatures have been sent to East
Timor prime minister; Xanana Gusmao from the
Sydney based University of Technology.
"We urge islands media to show solidarity with
their colleague in East Timor by signing the
petition and encouraging others to do so as well," says Miller.
"Failure to do so may see a chilling effect on
freedoms of speech in East Timor and the region's
youngest media at a time when neither can least afford it."