A million-dollar gift for Tommy Suharto from court

by EM News June 07, 2011
Press groups are outraged as a Supreme Court judge awarded the youngest son of Indonesia's former President Suharto - Hutomo "Tommy" Mandala Putra - damages worth 12.5 billion Rupiah (US$1.46 million) for a Garuda Indonesia in-flight magazine article which described him as a "convicted murderer" as a reference to his 2002 conviction for ordering the murder of a Supreme Court judge.
A million-dollar gift for Tommy Suharto from court

The sued article

Dr Agnes Callamard, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19, said it was disturning that the Indonesian court true facts about his conviction.

"This ruling carries severe implications for press freedom in Indonesia and is further aggravated by the million-dollar compensation," said Dr Callamard.

"The Tommy Suharto defamation case sends out the wrong signal as it implies that the judiciary system in Indonesia favours the protection of the rich and powerful," she said.

"Unfortunately, this ruling is also a reminder of the oppressive and corrupted era under former President Suharto and constitutes a serious setback to Indonesia's progress in upholding freedom of expression and the rule of law since the fall of Suharto," continued Callamard.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also condemned such ruling.

“Such a disproportionate damages award against a limited-circulation magazine, one with a maximum potential readership of 900,000 a month, indicates a desire by the court to do away with this magazine for good,” the organisation's press release stated. “This is a serious setback for freedom of expression in Indonesia and strips its judicial system of any credibility. We urge Judge Tahsin to reverse this decision.”

RSF reported that Tommy was initially given a 15-year jail sentence for the supreme court justice’s murder but it was later reduced to five years. In this week’s decision, the judge ruled that, having served his sentence, Tommy had fully recovered his rights as a citizen including the right “not to have his past mentioned.” He also ordered the magazine to print a full-page apology in each of its three next issues.

Furthermore, RSF added that the neutrality and impartiality of Indonesia’s justice system is also been damaged by a trial currently under way against Gatot Machali, the manager of Radio Era Baru in the province of Riau, who is facing a possible six-year jail sentence on charges of broadcasting in Mandarin without licence and disrupting the transmissions of neighbouring stations. The prosecution appears to be the result of pressure from China, which has long been calling for the station to be closed.

RSF reported the justice system also yielded pressure, this time from an Islamist organization, when it sentenced Erwin Arnada, the former editor of the Indonesian version of Playboy magazine, in August 2010 to two years in prison on a charge of indecency.

According to the organisation's reports, while the media are harassed by the authorities, three people accused of murdering Sun TV cameraman Ridwan Salamun were acquitted by a court in the eastern city Tual on 9 March, and no one has been arrested for the murder of Pelangi Weekly editor Alfrets Mirulewan on 17 December 2010.

Indonesia is ranked 117th out of 178 countries in the 2010 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.