-- A court on Thursday sentenced a prominent magazine editor to one year in prison for defamation and "inciting unrest" in a case watched by international press freedom advocates.
Bambang Harymurti, chief editor of Tempo, the nation's leading newsmagazine, was found guilty of publishing a libelous report last year saying that a powerful businessman could stand to gain from a mysterious fire that ravaged Jakarta's largest textile market.
The article included a denial from the businessman, Tomy Winata, who nevertheless pressed charges with the police and also filed a civil libel suit last year.
"We find the defendant guilty of disseminating libelous news and sentence him to one year in jail," said Judge Suripto, who goes by one name, ruling in the case, which began in July 2003. There were jeers in the courtroom, packed mostly with Tempo supporters.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Harymurti, 47, said: "It's a very sad day for Indonesian democracy. The judges had a golden opportunity to write a new chapter in Indonesian history, but they did not take it."
Harymurti, who remained free pending appeal, said he would take his case to the Jakarta High Court and then to the Supreme Court, if necessary. Prosecutors had sought a two-year sentence and immediate imprisonment.
Harymurti said he hoped that the appeals process would result in a decision similar to New York Times v. Sullivan, a 1964 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that advanced press freedom by establishing that libel against a public official or public figure must involve actual malice or reckless disregard for the truth.
International observers decried the Harymurti ruling as a setback to press freedom in a fledging democracy. The judge handed his decision down just four days before Indonesians vote in the final phase of their first direct presidential election.
Earlier in the same stifling courtroom, the judges acquitted reporter Ahmad Taufik, who wrote the article, and deputy editor Teuku Iskandar Ali on the same charges. The article was false and libelous, but the chief editor should bear the responsibility, the court ruled.
Tempo was banned by the authoritarian government of Suharto in 1994. It reopened in 1998, after Suharto's ouster as president.