A lawyer for Time magazine in Indonesia vowed yesterday to fight a Supreme Court decision awarding former dictator Suharto US$106 million in a defamation suit he filed against the publication in 1999.
The ruling, announced on Monday, overturns two lower court decisions and also orders the magazine to apologize to Suharto in the Indonesian media and Time's regional editions for an article alleging that he corruptly amassed wealth.
"This is a blow to freedom of the press, and it means it is not safe for the press to work," Time lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis said.
"So Time will take any legal measures available to defend freedom of the press, because this is important to uphold justice and the truth," he said.
The decision was ironic, Lubis said, given that the courts are set to hear a civil case against Suharto seeking to retrieve US$1.5 billion in state assets and damages over corrupt actions.
"Time will not give in or accept the decision and will take appropriate legal measures," he said.
Many activists in Indonesia are already irate that the 86-year-old ex-president has avoided being brought to trial over allegations of graft involving during his 32-year rule.
Suharto had been seeking more than US$27 billion in the suit filed against the Asian edition of Time over a May 1999 article claiming he had stashed his ill-gotten gains abroad.
Time said in the article that it had traced some US$15 billion in wealth accumulated by Suharto and his six children following a four-month investigation by its correspondents in 11 countries. The US$15 billion, the article alleged, included US$9 billion in cash that was transferred from a Swiss to an Austrian bank shortly after Suharto stepped down in May 1998.
Time said it had documented that more than US$73 billion that passed through the Suharto family's hands during his rule.
The only legal avenue open to Time now would be to file a request for a judicial review, for which new evidence or a procedural dispute needs to be claimed.
"I hope Time can respect and accept the Supreme Court's decision with a big heart because they have made untrue reports," said one of Suharto's lawyers, Mohammad Assegaf.