Timor Leste journalists facing jail for defamation
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliates the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) and the South East Asia Journalist Unions (SEAJU) in strongly condemning the latest development in the slanderous denunciation case against Timor Leste journalists Raimundos Oki and Lourenco Martins. The IFJ, MEAA and SEAJU call for the charges to be immediately withdrawn.
Yesterday, May 17, the lead prosecutor in the case against Raimundos Oki and Lourenco Martins put forward the final allegations in the case calling for Oki to be jailed for one year and Martins to be jailed for one years with a further two years suspended sentence. The court will read the verdict on June 1, 2017 at 5pm in Dili, Timor Leste.
(L-R) Lourenco Martins, former editor of the Timor Post, Raimundos Oki, and the current editor of the Timor Post at the first interviews with the prosecutor in April 2016.
The allegations against Oki and Martins stem from an article authored by Oki and published by the Timor Post, which Martins was the editor-in-chief of at the time, in November 2016 which referred to the now Prime Minister of Timor Leste, Rui Maria de Araujo, in his previous role as advisor to the Minister for Finance. According to the article published on November 10, Mr Araujo, recommended the winning bid for a project to supply and install computer equipment to the new Ministry of Finance building in 2014. As outlined under the Press Law, Article 34, the right of reply is guaranteed. As such, the Timor Post published the Prime Minister’s reply to the article in the paper’s front page on 17 November 2015. The Timor Post then published a clarification of Oki’s report in its 18 November 2015 issue.
On April 11, 2016 the Timor Leste prosecutor began an investigation into report, after a slanderous denunciation lawsuit was filed by the Prime Minister. The interview was the first step in the process of a decision whether to lay charges against the journalists under the Timorese criminal code.
The IFJ, South East Asian Journalist Unions (SEAJU), Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Freedom House wrote the Prime Minister calling for the charges to be dropped. However, he responded to the letter saying: “I will not trade press freedom and freedom of expression with ‘press irresponsibility’ and ‘irresponsible freedom of expression’”.
The IFJ and MEAA have advocated on behalf of Oki and Martins to have the charges against them withdrawn throughout the process. Both Oki and Martins have been banned from leaving Timor Leste without prior permission from the prosecutor.
In 2017, Oki was named as one of the applicants of the Balibo Five-Roger East Fellowship recipients.
Australian barrister and IFJ legal advisor, Jim Nolan, said: “If the two are convicted this will represent a significant stain on the reputation of democratic East Timor. The case is all the more grave as it involves an article which attacked the Prime Minister. The charges have been instituted at his behest. Any decision will also be an encouragement to authoritarian governments in the region which has been marked by increasing attacks upon the press. Until these charges emerged, Timor Leste was one of the few remaining democracies in the region which enjoyed a free press and where journalists could pursue their craft free from the threat of state prosecution.”
Jose Belo, former President, TLPU, said: “The prosecutor’s announcement yesterday is a worry for press freedom in Timor Leste, and puts the press under threat. The leaders, the government of Timor Leste are using the laws that they themselves produced to oppress the media. When Oki and Lourenco from the Timor Post, go to jail, that’s the beginning of a new era of the country’s leaders killing the free press. We really hope IFJ and journalist friends around the world will help us fight this battle.”
MEAA CEO Paul Murphy said “This legal assault on an individual journalist is an outrageous over-reach. It uses a draconian law to keep pursuing a journalist long after an error has been acknowledged and the record corrected. This law has been condemned by MEAA and many other press freedom groups around the world because it allows the government to pursue, intimidate and silence journalists.”
SEAJU said: “SEAJU regrets that East Timor, a country born from a long struggle for freedom, should now suppress one of the most essential freedoms, that of expression, and jump aboard the bandwagon of worsening repression of the press in Southeast Asia.”
The IFJ said: “We stand with our colleagues in Timor Leste in deploring this campaign against them led by the Prime Minister. Slanderous denunciation or criminal defamation by any other name is a brutal attack on press freedom and an attempt to silence critical voices.
Join the campaign to #FreeTimorJournalists and the sign the petition calling for the charges to be dropped here.