Time to fight Indonesian defamation ruling


JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Time magazine will fight an Indonesia court order to pay $106 million for defaming Suharto by alleging the former dictator's family amassed billions of dollars during his 32-year rule, a lawyer said Tuesday.

Todung Mulya Lubis called the Aug. 31 decision "a serious blow" to press freedom and a setback for Indonesia's judiciary.

The magazine says the May 1999 cover story in its Asian edition was based on four months' reporting in 11 countries -- research that it says uncovered a complex network of corporate investments, bank transfers and property holdings in Switzerland, Uzbekistan and Nigeria.

Time alleged that much of the money amassed by Suharto and his children was transferred from Switzerland to Austria before the strongman stepped down amid riots and pro-democracy protests nearly a decade ago.

"Time magazine will take any legal measures available to defend freedom of the press," Lubis told reporters in the capital, Jakarta. "We believe it is important to uphold justice and the truth."

He did not elaborate on what measures would be taken.

Suharto, who has also been accused of widespread rights abuses, had earlier filed lawsuits with the Central District Jakarta Court and later the Jakarta High Court. Both ruled in Time's favor.

But a panel of three Supreme Court judges -- including a retired general who rose in the military ranks during Suharto's administration -- overturned the decisions late last month and ordered Time Inc. Asia to pay $106 million.

It also demanded that six magazine employees apologize in leading Indonesian magazines and newspapers as well as Time's Asian, European and U.S. editions.

"I don't understand why the panel of judges was led by a Supreme justice with the background of an army general," Lubis said. "This is a very big question ... Why is a military man deciding a press (freedom) case?"

Suharto, now 86, seized power in a 1965 coup that left up to half a million people dead. He ruled the country for the next three decades, killing or imprisoning hundreds of thousands of political opponents.

He has evaded prosecution on charges of embezzling state funds, with lawyers successfully arguing he is too ill to stand trial, and he has never been tried for human rights abuses.

The Time article, titled "The Family Firm," alleged that Suharto and his children amassed $73 billion, the bulk of it from oil and mining, forestry, property, banking and petrochemicals. It says the family lost much of the money during the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.

Time -- which is owned by Time Inc., the magazine publishing division of media conglomerate Time Warner Inc. -- alleged that the family still had $15 billion in 1999.

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