Reporters Without Borders firmly condemns a South Jakarta court’s decision this week ordering Garuda Magazine, the in-flight magazine of the national airline Garuda, to pay 12.5 billion rupiah (more than a million euros) in damages to the youngest son of the late Indonesian dictator Suharto for referring to him as a “convicted murderer” in an article
The court ruled that the article, published in December 2009, defamed Hutomo Mandala Putra, usually known as “Tommy Suharto” or just “Tommy,” despite the fact that he was convicted in 2002 of ordering the murder of Syafiuddin Kartasasmita, a supreme court justice who had found him guilty of corruption. The article was about one of Tommy’s hotels in Bali.
“Such a disproportionate damages award against a limited-circulation magazine, one with a maximum potential readership of 900,000 a month, indicates a desire by the court to do away with this magazine for good,” Reporters Without Borders said. “This is a serious setback for freedom of expression in Indonesia and strips its judicial system of any credibility. We urge Judge Tahsin to reverse this decision.”
Tommy was initially given a 15-year jail sentence for the supreme court justice’s murder but it was later reduced to five years. In this week’s decision, the judge ruled that, having served his sentence, Tommy had fully recovered his rights as a citizen including the right “not to have his past mentioned.” He also ordered the magazine to print a full-page apology in each of its three next issues.
The neutrality and impartiality of Indonesia’s justice system is also been damaged by a trial currently under way against Gatot Machali, the manager of Radio Era Baru in the province of Riau, who is facing a possible six-year jail sentence on charges of broadcasting in Mandarin without licence and disrupting the transmissions of neighbouring stations. The prosecution appears to be the result of pressure from China, which has long been calling for the station to be closed.
The justice system also yielded pressure, this time from an Islamist organization, when it sentenced Erwin Arnada, the former editor of the Indonesian version of Playboy magazine, in August 2010 to two years in prison on a charge of indecency.
The media are harassed by the authorities, but three people accused of murdering Sun TV cameraman Ridwan Salamun were acquitted by a court in the eastern city Tual on 9 March, and no one has been arrested for the murder of Pelangi Weekly editor Alfrets Mirulewan on 17 December 2010.
Indonesia is ranked 117th out of 178 countries in the 2010 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.