TAPOL calls on Timorese Justice Minister to drop charges against
The decision by Lucia Lobato, the Justice Minister of Timor Leste, to
sue an investigative journalist for publishing a story about alleged
corruption over a contract to refurbish a prison and purchase prison
uniforms from her husband's company is a serious violation of the basic
right of journalists to report on a case of alleged corruption and a
threat to freedom of the press in the country.
Jose Antonio Belo, the journalist who now faces these defamation
charges, is the editor in-chief of Tempo Semanal, one of the country's
small number of newspapers. He was part of the resistance movement
against the Indonesian occupation of his country. He spent three years
in jail and endured horrific acts of torture from the Indonesian
occupiers, along with many other courageous Timorese fighters against
TAPOL is deeply distressed by this attack on the freedom of the press in
Timor Leste and calls upon the Justice Minister to drop the charges and
acknowledge the right of a journalist to publish reports without the
fear of facing the charge of defamation.
Ironically, the law now being used against Jose Belo is a legacy from
the Indonesian occupation and could result in Belo being sentenced to up
to six years in prison.
Carmel Budiardjo of TAPOL said: 'We are well acquainted with the courage
of Jose Belo during the more than two decades of the Indonesian
occupation and are aghast that a law introduced by the Indonesians is
now being used to stifle the legitimate activities of the press in a
country that claims to be a democracy. Minister of Justice Lucia Lobato
should withdraw the charges in recognition of the principle of the
freedom of the press. Timorese journalists should not live in fear of
charges that could land them in prison simply because they have done
what any journalist would be expected to do when they find evidence of
alleged corruption by a member of the government.'