DILI (TOP) – Timor-Leste Press Union (TLPU) asked the government led by Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak, especially the Minister for Parliamentarian Affairs and Social Communication Francisco Martins da Costa Pereira Jerónimo, to immediately stop and withdraw the case defamation lawsuit against editor-in-chief of online media Hatutan.com because if this case continues to the fore it will mark a regress to the commitment to democracy and open society that has been a great honor for Timor-Leste.
Relevant story: Ghost articles return to haunt journalists in Timor-Leste
Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are guaranteed in the constitution in articles 40 and 41, and also defamation is not a criminal case but there is still one ghost article that has always haunted journalists and critics who criticize the government.
With this condition, the ghost article has always been a powerful weapon for authoritarian leaders to hit back at their opponents.
The ghost article which is still attached to the Criminal Code (2009) in article 285 was used by former Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araújo as a powerful weapon to prosecute former Timor Post journalist Raimundos Oki at the end of 2015 and then the Dili district court decided to be acquitted in June 2017 for there is no solid evidence.
A few days ago the ghost article was again used by the Minister for Parliamentarian Affairs and Social Communication Francisco Jerónimo to silence journalists, especially the editor-in-chief of the online media Hatutan.com Francisco Belo Simões da Costa not to shrink the Set-top Box/Desodificador installation project on Radio and Timor-Leste television suspected of having a major corruption scandal.
The online media Hatutan.com has always been following up on the USD $900,000 Set-top Box/Decodificador installation project which is suspected to be fraught with a corruption scandal between a local company and a Chinese State-Owned Enterprise.
According to the Secretary General of TLPU, Zezito da Silva, that TLPU has verified that Hatutan.com's reports about the installation project are in accordance with the media law and journalistic code of ethics. Accordingly, he asked the Minister Francisco Jerónimo to immediately stop and withdraw his complaint against the journalist Francisco Belo Simões da Costa.
Minister Francisco Jerónimo also in charge of drafting legislation relating to the development of both public and private media but now he himself has taken the decision to hinder media development and criminalize journalists.
"He has no moral responsibility about this. So it would be best if he resigned from his position because he was not successful in carrying out the government's program on media and journalist development," Zezito said through a press conference.
He also asked Minister Francisco Jerónimo to resolve this case through mediation from the press council because journalism is not a crime.
The politicians who have used the ghost article as a powerful weapon for them are politicians from the FRETILIN party led by Secretary General Mari Bin Amude Alkatiri and its president Francisco Guterres Lú Olo.
Both former prime minister Rui Maria de Araújo and minister Francisco Jerónimo are politicians from the FRETILIN party.
The Anti-Corruption Commission has already conducted criminal investigations against several people related to the Set-top Box/Decodificador installation project and this case is still under investigation.