In response to widening criticism, Timor-Leste's Ministry of Justice has revised its proposed criminal defamation law to exempt criticisms of political parties and public servants, but has retained sections which criminalise defamation. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate the Timor-Leste Press Union (TLPU) continue to condemn the proposed law and call for its withdrawal from consideration.
On July 19, the national director for legal affairs at the Ministry of Justice, Nelinho Vital, informed reporters it would remove Article 187 (paragraph B, number 1) of the proposal after hearing public criticisms of the law. While the revision removes sections relating to the defamation of political parties and civil servants, it still allows for criminalisation of defamation, which falls outside accepted international norms.
The IFJ submitted legal advice highlighting the dangers of the proposed re-introduction of a criminal defamation law into Timor-Leste to Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak on July 14. In its correspondence, the IFJ said that by criminalising defamation the law will, in effect, prohibit freedom of expression and press freedom. If found guilty, individuals could be prosecuted and face up to three years in jail.
Civil society groups and press freedom advocates have threatened to demonstrate if the government approves this law.
The TLPU said: "TLPU stands with its position to oppose the proposed defamation law since it violates the value of democracy, human rights, and also the constitution."
The IFJ said: "This proposed law signals a shift in Timor-Leste and takes it from being seen as a strong, emerging democracy to one that more closely resembles autocratic rule. Let us not forget and waste the great collaborative efforts that were made to develop a strong constitution and laws that support media freedom in Timor-Leste. Right now, press freedom in Timor-Leste is in grave danger if this is allowed to move ahead and it must be vigorously challenged."
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0918