Pacific Media Watch

15 March 2013

EAST TIMOR: Journalists fined over 'slow justice' reports

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The Dili District Court coat of arms.

DILI (Jornal Independente / Pacific Media Watch): The Dili District Court has decided not to jail two journalists, Raimundo Oki from Jornal Independente and Oscar Salsinha from Suara Timor Lorosa'e but imposed a fine of US$150 each over reports they wrote on an issue of the justice process after a traffic accident in Oe-cusse district enclave in 2011.

The report, written by Oki and published by Jornal Independente concerned a car accident that resulted in the deaths of three people, including a girl aged nine years.

A victim's son, Mateus Sufa, told the two journalists that the legal process to the crime was very slow.

Sufa also said that the driver had fled illegally to Indonesia.

Oce-cusse's Prosecutor Jacinto Babo Soares was not accused in the report of being bribed.

The report in this newspaper quoted Sufa in saying he suspected something was wrong in the legal process.

Before publication, Oki asked Soares by phone to explain the legal process of the issue, including that the driver had run away to Indonesia and asking him about any possibility of using Interpol to arrest the driver.

Interpol work
Soares responded that he knew more about the work of Interpol and Oki did not have to teach him.

He rejected giving a detailed explanation to Oki.

Secretary of State for the security Francisco Guterres said in the story that he had received a report that the driver had run away and said any further action on the issue could be taken after receiving an order from the prosecutor.

The Prosecutor's Office in Dili brought action against the two journalists because he considered they published false information to the public.

During the first hearing on February 28, Soares said he could not give clear explanation to Oki because he was not happy after receiving information that Suara Timor Lorosa'e newspaper had accused him of "probably receiving an envolope".

Dili District Court judge Antonio Helder ruled that the two journalists did not have to go to jail but needed to pay a fine.

The court ruled that Sufa had to also pay a fine of $150 and was not allowed to go to overseas for one year. Every three months he had to present himself to authorities.

Defending free expression
Oki said he was happy with the court decision not to send him and other two accused to jail.

He said he would never feel afraid to defend freedom of expression in Timor-Leste.

The director of Jornal Independente, Mouzinho Lopes de Araujo, said he was happy with the court's decision not to jail his journalist but he was sad because the court made the journalists pay fines.

He said the story published by his newspaper was ethical and lawful but he respected what the court had decided.

De Araujo said his newsroom would never surrounder to any threats against the function of media for defending democracy.

De Araujo thanked fellow journalists in Timor-Leste and human rights defenders in overseas countries that gave moral support to the two journalists.

Two journalist associations, the Timor-Leste Press Club (TLPC) and Timor-Leste Journalists Association, supported the two journalists from the court's first hearing.

TLPC plans to meet to discuss how to give further support to Oki and Salsinha.

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Pacific Media Watch

PMC's media monitoring service

Pacific Media Watch is compiled for the Pacific Media Centre as a regional media freedom and educational resource by a network of journalists, students, stringers and commentators. (cc) Creative Commons