[Etan-key] ETAN Urges Veto of Timor- Leste Defamation Law
John M Miller
fbp at igc.org
Mon Feb 6 09:58:47 PST 2006
For Immediate Release
Contact: John M. Miller, 718-596-7668; 917-690-4391 (cell)
Rights Group Urges Veto of Timor- Leste Defamation Law
The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network
(ETAN) has urged Xanana Gusmao, President of
Timor-Leste, to veto the criminal defamation
provisions contained in the countrys new Penal Code.
In a letter to President Gusmao, the group wrote
"One of the foundations of a democratic society
is the ability of its people to speak truth to
power. If Timor-Leste's government tries to
suppress such speech, we fear for the future of
your democracy and for the future stability of your nation."
"ETAN joins international journalists groups,
Timor-Leste journalist and legal associations,
East Timorese Catholic clergy, the UN Secretary
General, the U.S. Secretary of State and others
in urging East Timor's leaders to live up to
their constitutional obligation to protect
freedom of expression, not limit it," said John
M. Miller, National Coordinator of ETAN. " The
new nation can only benefit from robust political
debate; the proposed defamation provisions will stifle discussion."
East Timor's truth commission (CAVR) has also
recommended that defamation not be criminalized.
The complete letter can be found at www.etan.org/news/2006/02defam.htm.
The proposed law would impose unlimited fines for
those convicted of criminal defamation. Penalties
for defamation through the media are greater, as
are penalties (three years in prison) if those
defamed are performing "public, religious or
political duties." The truth of the statements
would not necessarily serve as a defense. Legal
analysts say that the penal code would grant
greater protection to public officials than to
others. Under current law, defamed individuals can sue for civil damages.
East Timor has ratified the major international
human rights conventions which guarantee freedoms
of speech and the press, incorporating these rights into East Timorese law.
ETAN advocates for democracy, justice and human
rights for East Timor and Indonesia. For more
information, see <http://www.etan.org/>www.etan.org.
2 February 2006
His Excellency Xanana Gusmão
President of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste
Palacio das Cinzas
Dear Mr. President,
We are writing to share our thoughts on the
proposed criminal defamation legislation in the
Penal Code for Timor-Leste. As you know, this
legislation has been approved by the Council of
Ministers and is currently awaiting your action.
As long-time friends of the people and the nation
of Timor-Leste, the East Timor and Indonesia
Action Network (ETAN) urges you not to sign this
law. We are sending copies of this letter to the
Prime Minister and other leaders of the
Parliament and the Council of Ministers, and we
are also urging them not to enact it without your approval.
We celebrate and respect Timor-Lestes status as
an independent nation, with the right to make
your own decisions and mistakes. We have
supported your peoples struggle for
self-determination for 15 years, and are usually
reluctant to get involved in Timor-Lestes
internal affairs. However, in this case we
believe that our experience could help you make a wise decision.
We will not repeat how the defamation law could
stifle freedom of the press and political debate,
or how it violates Timor-Lestes Constitution and
international human rights treaties which have
become part of Timor-Lestes laws. These
arguments have been ably expressed by others, and
we agree with them. We are also aware of the wide
range of people who are urging you not to approve
the defamation law this is one of the rare
times ETAN and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice are in agreement.
We write to add a perspective from grassroots,
civil society activists for peace and justice
based on ETANs experience campaigning against
U.S. policies which enabled killing and
repression during the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste.
Throughout the 1990s, ETAN received reports from
yourself and others in the resistance about
horrendous human rights violations committed by
Indonesian forces against your people. We
distributed that information as widely as
possible -- writing about it in the media,
holding press conferences, circulating it among
U.S. government officials, and peacefully
challenging Indonesian and U.S. officials and
others who supported or apologized for
Indonesias brutal oppression of your people and
illegal occupation of your country.
To take one example, in September 1992, ETAN
wrote a public letter to Senator Robert Kasten, a
powerful Republican ally of President George H.W.
Bush and a leader of the pro-Indonesia faction in
the Senate. We wrote, We were disturbed to hear
that you have been working to convince other
Senators to restore IMET for Indonesia to the
Foreign Aid Bill. We hope that you understand
that such action feeds the perception that
Senators represent lobbyists and not voters. On
October 2, other Senators and Representatives
rejected the Bush-Kasten position, and the U.S.
Congress prohibited IMET training of Indonesian
soldiers the first limitation on U.S. military
assistance in 17 years of occupation. Opposition
to Kastens support for Jakarta was taken up by
his electoral opponent Russell Feingold, who
defeated Kasten a month later. Senator Feingold
has since been one of Timor-Lestes strongest and
most consistent supporters in Washington.
Fortunately, the United States has no criminal
defamation law like the one contemplated for
Timor-Leste. If it had, we could have been
charged with defaming Senator Kasten or, more
likely, ETAN and other activists would have been
intimidated from speaking out to support
Timor-Leste in the first place. Our frequent and
true assertion, usually bluntly stated, that the
United States government was complicit in massive
human rights crimes against Timor-Lestes people
would have gone unsaid and unheard. The growing
public pressure that by July 1998 led the U.S.
Senate to unanimously call for a referendum in
Timor-Leste, and finally pushed President Clinton
to endorse UNAMET and InterFET in 1999, might never have occurred.
One of the foundations of a democratic society is
the ability of its people to speak truth to
power. If Timor-Lestes government tries to
suppress such speech, we fear for the future of
your democracy and for the future stability of your nation.
Timor-Lestes independence and peace were
achieved at great cost. We cannot remain silent
while some of Timor-Lestes leaders endanger your hard-won accomplishments.
Peace and justice,
John M. Miller Karen Orenstein
ETAN welcomes your financial support. For more
John M. Miller Internet: fbp at igc.org
East Timor & Indonesia Action Network:
48 Duffield St., Brooklyn, NY 11201 USA
Phone: (718)596-7668 Fax: (718)222-4097
Mobile phone: (917)690-4391
Web site: http://www.etan.org
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