Media Groups in Indonesia Press for Release of Jailed Playboy Editor

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Three nongovernmental organizations have joined the chorus of voices calling for the courts to overturn the indecency conviction of Playboy Indonesia editor Erwin Arnada.

Erwin was sentenced to two years in prison last October by the Supreme Court, which controversially overturned his 2007 acquittal by the South Jakarta District Court.

He has since filed for a review of the case, arguing that he should have been tried under the Press Law rather than the Criminal Code, as the now-defunct Indonesian version of Playboy magazine was a registered media outlet.

On Wednesday, three NGOs — the Indonesian Media Defense Litigation Network (IMDLN), the Institute for Criminal Justice Reform (ICJR) and the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (Elsam) — announced they had filed amicus curiae, or friend of the court, briefs last Friday.

Such briefs are filed by parties with an interest in a case but no personal connection to the proceedings, and can take the form of a legal opinion, unsolicited testimony or a learned treatise on the issue at hand.

“We’re not parties to the case and we have no vested interests in this case, other than to contribute to the improvement of Indonesia’s legal procedures and to uphold freedom of expression in the country,” said Anggara, a senior associate at the ICJR.

He said the Supreme Court’s decision to quash Erwin’s earlier acquittal raised questions about whether religious standards, specifically Islamic ones, played any part in the decision to convict Erwin for indecency.

He said this case could be seen as a test for the government as a party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and whether it could live up to its international obligation to protect freedom of expression in the country.

The government ratified the covenant and passed it into national law in 2005.

The Legal Aid Foundation for the Press (LBH Pers), with the support of the Press Council, the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI), the Tempo Media group and the Jakarta Globe, previously filed a similar set of amicus curiae briefs in support of the case review.

Hendrayana, chairman of LBH Pers, said the more parties that filed friend of the court briefs, the more information the judges would have as they considered the review.

Wahyudi Djafar, a human rights analyst at Elsam, said Erwin’s supporters could also make use of an article in the 1981 Criminal Code Procedures that stipulates a presiding judge must seek new advice from parties with an interest in a case.

“We also want to promote the use of amicus curiae briefs as an alternative in the pursuit of justice and as a way to provide fresh insight to judges to give them a clearer perspective when they are presiding over a case,” Wahyudi said.

Zainal Abidin, secretary of the IMDLN, said the submission of friend of the court briefs had contributed to the Supreme Court’s decision in 2009 to overturn a criminal defamation conviction involving Time magazine.
That convictions stemming from a May 1999 cover story alleging that former President Suharto and his family had amassed a fortune of $15 billion over three decades of rule.

Erwin’s conviction last year drew drawn national and international criticism from press- freedom advocates.

Playboy founder Hugh Hefner also weighed in on the issue, saying: “It’s nice to see so much support for the Playboy editor arrested in Indonesia.”