Saturday, 14 November 2009

Internet Exclusive: Criminal Defamation Charges Against Tempo Semanal Dropped. A Victory For Media in Timor-Leste.

The Criminal Defamation Case Against Tempo Semanal Closed
A year ago Tempo Semanal published a series of stories that became known as the "SMS Scandal" in which it alleged corruption by the Minister of Justice, Lucia Lobato, along with Timorese and Indonesian business people in relation to projects under her Ministry.  These projects included the Becora Prison, uniforms for prison guards and Timor-Leste national identity cards projects.

The stories include
  1. Tempo Semanal: Edition 108: SMS texts evidence: Minister for Justice Gives Herself And Friends Projects 
  2. Tempo Semanal Edisaun 108 SMS: MJ Fo Projektu ba An Rasik no Ninia Belum Sira
  3. Translation Tempo Semanal Edition 135 (Minister of Justice SMS Corruption Scandal Continues)
  4.  "Identity Card Project Breaches Law No. 10/2005 and Confirms Allegations of KKN." [In the Ministry of Justice] "Identity Card Project Breaches Law No. 10/2005 and Confirms Allegations of KKN[1]."
Minister Lobato reacted angrily and in October 2008 she lodged a criminal defamation case against Tempo Semanal and its Director Jose Antonio Belo.

Read stories on the criminal defamation case here:
  1. Justice minister sues East Timor newspaper 
  2. Pacific Freedom Forum Petitions Against "Unconstitutional" Defamation Case
  3. Defamation Case against Tempo Semanal: Lao Hamutuk
  4. ETAN urges dropping of defamation charges against Timorese editor
  5. TAPOL protests against defamation charges against Timorese journalist

She reported the case of criminal defamation against Jose Belo to prosecutors. Belo was investigated by the International Prosecutor on 19 January 2009 and has been under city detention since then. He has to report to the prosecutor if he wants to travel away from Dili more than 15 days. Since last year Belo only made two trips out from Timor-Leste and had to refuse three invitations for foreign travel. He went to Australia for 10 days and to Indonesia for 4 days.

Lucia Lobato - Minister of Justice, 
Government of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste

On 13 November 2009 PNTL delivered a two page notification letter to Tempo Semanal Offices in Palapaso Dili.

Video Footage Here:

These letters informed Tempo Semanal officially that the case of Criminal Defamation has ceased on 15 June 2009 and was signed by International Prosecutor Jose Landim.

The Notification letter stated, “The crime of defamation was decriminalized by the new Timor-Leste Criminal Code, DL No. 19/2009 of 8 April 2009, as a result of which the accused can no longer be held criminally liable. 

It continued, “In effect, pursuant to the provisions of article 3, 1. of Timor-Leste's new Criminal Code, "nobody can be held criminally liable as a result of facts prescribed as criminal acts at the relevant time it was carried into action if the law subsequently ceases to consider it as a crime." 

“As such, because it is not now possible to continue with the criminal proceedings against the accused, the proceedings currently on foot are hereby ordered to be closed pursuant to article 235, 1. c) of the Criminal Code."

Tempo Semanal Director Jose Antonio Belo congratulated the Prosecutor General and all her staff to put the law in it's highest place. However, at the same time Belo was disappointed the case would not reach court, where the facts of the corruption case might come to futher public light.  Belo stateed that he is aware that the then Prosecutor General had demanded the Minister for Justice Madam Lucia Lobato to submit more evidence before the case could be sent to the court. 

“I and Tempo Semanal have been left in confusion for an entire year and we don't know the situation of the case against us but this afternoon we have receive this notification letter,” said Belo on 13/11/09 in Tempo's office.

“I as a Timorese journalist very sad to see our Minister of Justice's actions by lodging a criminal difamation case against myself and Tempo Semanal while her office producing the New East Timor Penal code which decriminalized defamation,” Belo said.

He continued to say that, “it seems like the Minister for Justice is confused about Timorese law.”

Belo stated that he would like to make it cleared to Tempo Semanal readers that, “we are not afraid to go the court to prove our story that's why we have request the kindness from the good office of the two deputy Prime Minister to encourage the Minister of Justice to carry on the case.”

In this opportunity Jose Belo and Tempo Semanal would like to thanks to all those friends who give courage and support  this in this diffucult time.

It remains unclear if the Minister of Justice will ever faces charges in relation to the accusations of corruption that have been made against her by this newspaper, the Provedor, the Parliamentary Opposition and many others.


Anonymous said...

Now as the case is closed, Tempo semanal bravely saying that they are not afraid, but if this case is still under court case the tempo semanal won't comment anything. This is a liar.

Supporter and Reader of TS said...

You are wrong man! Tempo Semanal did not say anything because those people in TS respected the course of justice as well as the judicial process. TS team, specially Jose, Belo have been courageous enough to cooperate with public prosecutor in this little war against arrogance, corrupted people and ridiculous political power!

TS and Jose specially have contributed to a true independent media who reflect genuine interest to serve the timorese people by assuming their own role as investigative journalist with factual and independence story coverage. Which in their own merit deserve our total admiration and absolute support.

The lesson to learn from this, I think, is that timorese journalists shall not afraid in reporting true stories which concern to the defence of general public's interest, the promotion of democracy, freedom of speech, transparency, good governance, and specially in the fight against true evil and enemy of the people; corruption, collusion and nepotism. Timorese journalists shall always work hard to uphold their professionalism, have genuine commitment to more training and skills improvement.