INDONESIA: Rakyat Merdeka daily faces another libel suit

Police investigators grilled on Tuesday the executive director of national daily Rakyat Merdeka, Teguh Santosa, as a suspect in a libel case filed by National Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief A.M. Hendropriyono over an article published in February 2003

The Jakarta Post
Wednesday, January 14, 2004

By Evi Mariani

Police investigators grilled on Tuesday the executive director of national daily Rakyat Merdeka, Teguh Santosa, as a suspect in a libel case filed by National Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief A.M. Hendropriyono over an article published in February 2003.

During the five-hour interrogation, Teguh's lawyer Aliamsah Harahap said police asked his client 22 questions.

He said the investigation by the Jakarta Police should be dropped, because the case had passed its validity period.

"Article 74 of the Criminal Code stipulates that a libel case is valid within six months after the written remarks appear," Harahap said. "He (Hendropriyono) was three days late."

The BIN chief filed the case on Aug. 5, 2003 in response to the daily's Feb. 2 article.

The article, titled "Rumor circulating from Presidential Palace and Jl. Teuku Umar, Mega to dismiss Indonesian Military (TNI) chief and National Police chief", said that in a Cabinet meeting on Jan. 20, Hendropriyono disclosed the names of four individuals allegedly involved in protests against the hike of public service rates early that year, which were said to have been designed to topple the government.

At that time, other media also reported that BIN had named former TNI chief Gen. (ret) Wiranto; National Mandate Party (PAN) lawmaker and former finance minister Fuad Bawazier; former cooperatives minister and chairman of the Association of Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI) Adi Sasono; and chairman of the Bung Karno Nationalist Party (PNBK) Eros Djarot.

"The article is based on common knowledge ... Hendropriyono was the one who disclosed the names," Teguh said before his interrogation.

Teguh had ignored previous two police summons, saying he was busy and could not appear at police headquarters.

"I'm ready for the trial, because it's not the first time for me," he said.

The daily, which is known for its sensationalistic headlines, has faced at least four accusations of libel. On two occasions, the newspaper was taken to court and lost.

Rakyat Merdeka chief editor Karim Paputungan was sentenced to five months in jail in September for insulting House of Representatives speaker Akbar Tandjung, while executive editor Supratman was given a six-month sentence in October for defaming President Megawati Soekarnoputri. Both sentences were suspended.

Two other cases, filed by former minister of trade and industry Rahardi Ramelan and incumbent trade minister Rini Soewandi, are awaiting trial.