>ARTICLE 19, AJI, IFEX and other media freedom groups call for decriminalisation of defamation

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16 May 2008, News Southeast Asia Seminar Calls for Decriminalisation of Defamation
Participants at a defamation seminar hosted by ARTICLE 19 and AJI inYogyakarta, Indonesia, called on countries in the region to abolishcriminal defamation laws and to reform their civil defamation laws to bringthem into line with international standards. They also pledged to worknationally and regionally to combat the rampant abuse of these laws toprevent critical reporting.
“Defamation laws, both criminal and civil, are roundly abused around theregion to suppress freedom of expression and criticism of officials andother powerful social actors,” said Toby Mendel, Senior Director of Law,ARTICLE 19. “There is an urgent need to abolish criminal defamation lawsand to revise civil defamation laws so that they exert less of a chillingeffect of freedom of expression.”
“AJI is committed to continuing to work with its partners, local, regionaland international, to achieve these objectives and to provide legal defenceto its members,” added Heru Hendratmoko, Chair of the Independent Allianceof Journalists (AJI).
The meeting, held on 9-10 May in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, brought togethergroups working on freedom of expression and media freedom internationally,regionally – including from Cambodia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines,Thailand and Timor Leste – and from around Indonesia. A key focus of themeeting was to develop a plan of action for groups working on these issues.The plan includes both regional and national-level activities. Key elementsof the regional plan are to promote cooperation and solidarity among groupsworking on these issues and to further develop regional mechanisms for theprotection of freedom of expression.
Key elements of the national plans are to:- promote strategic litigation to narrow the scope of defamation laws;- build strong constituencies of support to achieve legislative reform ofdefamation laws;- foster awareness of existing legal defence tools for those charged withdefamation; and- build capacity among journalists to report more professionally so as toavoid falling foul of the defamation laws.
The participants also took advantage of the occasion to express solidaritywith Risang Bima Wijaya, currently serving a six-month sentence, through avisit with him at Cebongan Prison in Yogyakarta. ARTICLE 19 is working withAJI and LBH Pers, a legal group, on a constitutional challenge in Wijaya’scase, arguing that imprisonment for defamation is a breach of theconstitutional guarantee of freedom of expression.
ARTICLE 19 is an independent human rights organisation that works aroundthe world to protect and promote the right to freedom of expression. Ittakes its name from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of HumanRights, which guarantees free speech.
AJI is an independent journalists’ association that works to promote and defend the rights of journalists, including their right to freedom ofexpression.
For further informationon the Wijaya case, see:http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/88593
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