Pacific Media Watch

18 March 2013

EAST TIMOR: Not guilty journalists to appeal 'slander' law fines

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The Dili District Court coat of arms.

DILI (ETLJB / LUSA / Pacific Media Watch): Two Timorese journalists found not guilty but fined $150 last Thursday under Timor-Leste’s “slanderous denunciation” (defamation) law are to appeal their conviction and there is now a move to have the law changed as it applies to journalists.

A meeting of journalists on Friday agreed to pay the court fines but also to launch an appeal to a higher court.

The journalists were each fined US150 by the Dili District Court on Thursday as civil compensation for the public prosecutor involved in the case.

The journalists had faced up to three years in jail after the newspapers they worked for (Independente and Suara Timor Lorosae) published reports in December 2011 and January 2012 about a traffic accident case in the District of Oecusse.

They had both alleged the public prosecutor dealing with the case had accepted a bribe in the course of his duties relating to the investigation and prosecution of the driver of the motor vehicle which left dead after a collision.

The judge said prosecutors failed to prove that the news published by two journalists had harmed the prosecutor materially.

"Oscar Maria Salsinha and Raimundos Oki are sentenced to pay a fine of $150 each," said the judge, in a room full of Timorese journalists who stood and applauded the judge's decision regarding their colleagues who avoided a prison sentence.

Suspended sentence
In the same judgment, the individual who passed the information about the alleged bribe received by the prosecutor, the news source for journalists, was sentenced to a suspended sentence of one year and also ordered to pay a fine of $150.

"I am pleased with the court's decision. But I'm sad because of compensation because we were just reporting the news," said Lusa Raimundos Oki, a journalist from the Independente newspaper.

Oscar Maria Salsinha, from the Suara Timor Lorosae just said he was "happy" with the judge's decision.

The representative of the Association of Journalists of Timor-Leste, Tito Filipe, said the judge's decision was fair and asked the Parliament and the Timorese judicial system to "eliminate slanderous denunciation from the criminal code as it applies to journalists."

According to the East Timorese Penal Code, the crime of "slanderous denunciation" is applied to "those who, by any means, before an authority or public, aware of the falsity of the imputation, cast upon a particular person suspicion of a crime, with the intention that he/she be prosecuted."

The code also states that if the person was not "aware of the falsity of the accusation" then the aggrieved can seek compensation under civil liability.

The prosecution said it would appeal against the decision.

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