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For immediate release: Thursday 5 March 2009 – Attempts by the Justice minister of Timor Leste to push criminal defamation charges against a newspaper publisher will have "chilling effects" on freedoms of speech.
"East Timor has a choice – it can follow other states down a well beaten track towards corruption," states Pacific Freedom Forum interim Chair, Susuve Laumaea.
"Or it can begin a fresh chapter for resource-rich Pacific Islands by encouraging robust news reportage – even critical commentary."
José Antonio Belo is being sued for criminal defamation because of an article he published alleging corruption by the country's Justice minister, Lucia Lobato.
In his article, Belo highlighted a contract between the Justice ministry and that of the minister's husband, for prison repairs and guard uniforms.
The PFF strongly condemns attempts to limit freedoms of speech in any country and has begun a petition online to back up an earlier effort by the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism.
"Freedoms of speech are laid down in concrete terms in East Timor," says co-chair Monica Miller.
"We shouldn't have to remind the democratically elected representatives of Timor Leste about what is set down in black and white in their own constitution – the ruling law of the land."
"There are extensive constitutional protections for freedoms of speech and, unusually, freedom of the press and mass media," says Miller.
"For the government of East Timor to hide behind the same colonial laws used by Indonesia to suppress and intimidate genuine efforts towards democracy ignores blood sacrifice by thousands of their own citizens in support of freedom ."
The PFF statement comes after the criminal defamation case was criticised by media workers and researchers, through the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism.
More than 85 signatures have been sent to East Timor prime minister, Xanana Gusmao from the Sydney based University of Technology.
Pacific Freedom Forum has set up an online petition.
"We urge islands media to show solidarity with their colleague in East Timor by signing the petition and encouraging others to do so as well," says Laumaea.
Adds Miller, "I strongly support the petition and urge all those who believe in media freedom to sign it."
Relevant provisions from the Constitution include:
Section 25.1 –Suspension of the exercise of fundamental rights, freedoms and guarantees shall only take place if a state of siege or a state of emergency has been declared as provided for by the Constitution.
Section 40 - Freedom of speech and information
Section 40.1. Every person has the right to freedom of speech and the right to inform and be informed impartially.
Section 40.2. The exercise of freedom of speech and information shall not be limited by any sort of censorship.
Section 40.3. The exercise of rights and freedoms referred to in this Section shall be regulated by law based on the imperative of respect for the Constitution and the dignity of the human person.
Section 41 - Freedom of the press and mass media
Section 41.1. Freedom of the press and other mass media is guaranteed.
Section 41.2. Freedom of the press shall comprise, namely, the freedom of speech and creativity for journalists, the access to information sources, editorial freedom, protection of independence and professional confidentiality, and the right to create newspapers, publications and other means of broadcasting.
Section 41.3. The monopoly on the mass media shall be prohibited.
Section 41.4. The State shall guarantee the freedom and independence of the public mass media from political and economic powers.
stop east timor case against jose belo – sign petition!
www.etan.org/etanpdf/pdf2/constfnen.pdf - constitution
Justice in East Timor on libel case - Jakarta Globe
news links: Cafe Pacific
PFF interim Chair
Susuve Laumaea Sunday Chronicle Newspaper Papua New Guinea
Mobile: 675-684 5168 Office: 675-321-7040 Email: email@example.com
PFF interim co-Chair
Monica Miller KHJ Radio American Samoa
Mob 684 258-4197 Office 684 633-7793 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Pacific Freedom Forum are a regional and global online network of Pacific media colleagues, with the specific intent of raising awareness and advocacy of the right of Pacific people to enjoy freedom of expression and be served by a free and independent media.
We believe in the critical and basic link between these freedoms, and the vision of democratic and participatory governance pledged by our leaders in their endorsement of the Pacific Plan and other commitments to good governance.
In support of the above, our key focus is monitoring threats to media freedom and bringing issues of concern to the attention of the wider regional and international community.
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