01 August 2009
Prita Mulyasari -- Defamation -- To Be Retried...
This is unfortunately one of those cases where one just knows what is going to happen before it actually happens. It would also seem that the Banten High Court reads The RAB Experience, but this would not seem to be the case for Prita and her legal team.
The Banten High Court has ordered the Tangerang District Court to retry the defamation case against Prita Mulyasari. This may have come as a surprise to some, but the reality was that in a strict legal sense the decision could not have been any other way. Simply, the Tangerang District Court erred in the manner in which it dismissed the indictment against Mulyasari (news).
The Banten High Court held in its decision to send the case back to Tangerang for trial was that the decision of the Tangerang District Court was unlawful. In essence, this means that the legal reasoning provided to justify the dismissal of the case in the first instance was wrong. The Chief Judge of the Banten High Court, Sumarno, was unequivocal in stating that the Tangerang District Court erred in its judgment.
The debate on the legal reasoning can probably be found in lots of places. However, I wrote about it here and here. However, although the earlier comment about the judges of the Banten High Court reading The RAB Experience was somewhat tongue in cheek, the legal reasoning of the panel of Banten High Court judges explicitly stated that the error of the Tangerang District Court judges was the belief that the Information and Electronic Transactions Law does not come into force until 2010.
The lawyer for Prita Mulyasari, Slamet Yuwono, might be keen to test the defamation provisions himself, as he went on the record to say that, "... I just hope that the high court judges were not compelled by anything other than legal considerations." Ah, Slamet, compelled by what exactly? A small fee from the Office of the Public Prosecutors or the Omni International Hospital? Unfortunately, Slamet, refused to elaborate on what the suggestion was.
The Information and Electronic Transaction Law is contentious. It is contentious not because of the date the law comes into force. It is not contentious as to whether the definition of defamation is clear or not. It is not contentious because the Law provides a two-year window for subordinate or subsidiary legislation to be put into place to give effect to or clarify certain articles. However, it is contentious for the simple reason that Indonesians are currently engaged in a debate about the validity and usefulness of criminal defamation provisions in any law.
The contentious nature of the Law is whether criminal defamation is a means to an end. That is, is the Law a means of stifling legitimate free speech and expression? Further, and perhaps even more important to some, is whether this case highlights the way in which big business can bury consumer complaints about the services received by the consumers themselves?
A quick read of the Letters to the Editor pages of most Indonesian newspapers will see Indonesians writing letters of complaint about one thing or another. Usually about the notoriously bad service provided by banks and financial institutions, and quite often this is to do with credit cards. What the Mulyasari case has shown to date is that big business no longer need to respond to complaints but rather use their vast financial reserves to bankrupt their customers or at least use the threat of doing so.
Going forward. The Tangerang District Court now has no choice but to revisit the Mulyasari case and hear the arguments from both sides. The only way that Mulyasari is victorious here is if her legal team can prove that what was written was not defamation in the manner in which defamation is defined in the Information and Electronic Transactions Law. If they can then the Court can once again dismiss the case and Mulyasari will be free to go on about her life.
Nevertheless, and at the risk of raining on the parade, this is a test case and no matter what the outcome of the retrial, it seems clear that both sides would be likely to appeal if they are on the wrong side of the verdict. This is a case that is going to be tied up in litigation for a good while longer yet.
That said, the only way this would end quickly is if Mulyasari gets the verdict and the Office of the Public Prosecutor in Tangerang declines to appeal the verdict. Judging the performance of prosecutors to date, it would seem that they are intent on seeing this one through to the bitter end. They want a conviction or they are going to die trying.