Subject: PM - Timorese journalist faces criminal libel charge

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

<http://abc.net.au/> ABC Online

PM - Timorese journalist faces criminal libel charge

[This is the print version of story abc.net.au/pm/content/2008/s2492880.htm]

PM - Monday, 16 February , 2009 18:42:00

Reporter: Cathy Harper

MARK COLVIN: In East Timor, a case against a local journalist has stirred up anger, both inside and outside the country.

The journalist has been charged with criminal libel, after he published allegations of corruption in the East Timorese Government.

The journalist's on a criminal charge under old laws left over from Indonesia's brutal occupation of East Timor.

It's raised questions about the commitment of the East Timorese Government to freedom of speech.

Cathy Harper reports.

CATHY HARPER: Jose Belo is used to being unpopular with authorities.

He was part of the resistance against Indonesia and was sent to prison for anti-Indonesian activities.

But now it's his own government's laws which may imprison him.

JOSE BELO: I am going to be imprisoned by these law and in the same prison where the Indonesian detained me or imprison me there.

CATHY HARPER: Jose Belo is the chief editor of an East Timorese newspaper called Tempo Semanal.

Last October, he published an article alleging corruption and nepotism against East Timor's Justice Minister Lucia Lobato.

A few weeks after that, he was charged with criminal defamation, a charge that potentially carries a prison term.

JOSE BELO: The response from the Government is really, really bad to me and to my newspaper.

CATHY HARPER: Jose Belo's been charged under old Indonesian laws, which were left over from the occupation.

The East Timorese Government has promised to repeal the laws and is in the process of drafting new ones, but they haven't been enacted.

Jose Belo accuses his government of not genuinely wanting freedom of speech in East Timor.

JOSE BELO: They don't want the journalists to do some hard stories. That's why they go after me. And if they get me then other journalists are not going to be brave to do the hard stories.

CATHY HARPER: That's rejected by the East Timorese Government.

Jose Luis Guterres is the Deputy Prime Minister:

JOSE LUIS GUTERRES: The case in the General Prosecutor's office is not government against journalist but is between two individuals.

Lucia Lobato is now currently Minister of Justice but she felt that her right was violated by the articles that Mr Jose Belo's newspaper wrote a few months ago.

We have to recognise the right of all citizens to take any case to the court. This is not a case of government against the press.

CATHY HARPER: But with respect that is the outcome of it. If a journalist publishes negative information about your government, it could lead them to be charged with a criminal charge.

JOSE LOUIS GUTERRES: No, no. There are many articles in the newspapers since we came to power are not in favour of the Government. But the Government has never taken a step to put these cases in the tribunal.

CATHY HARPER: But journalists in East Timor are concerned.

A group called KOLKAS, which is involved in drafting new media laws, says there are several recent examples were journalists have been intimidated with court action.

An opposition MP, Fernando Borges, who heads a parliamentary committee involved in assessing media laws, isn't convinced the Government intends to get rid of criminal defamation.

The MP says the Justice Minister, who's the subject of the corruption allegation, is involved in drafting the new criminal laws.

FERNANDO BORGES: If you don't have freedom of speech, there is no freedom for anybody because sooner or later someone will knock on your door and say "you have not said the right thing about me, you go there". And the courts are being used at the moment for that purpose, to shut people down.

CATHY HARPER: Jose Belo is still waiting to hear when he will face the defamation charge in court.

MARK COLVIN: Cathy Harper.

And regular listeners may be aware that José Belo has worked as a freelance journalist for the ABC.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation


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