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La'o Hamutuk urges RDTL President not to approve defamation law

January 2006. Updated 2016

This letter was written in Tetum, which is on this page below the English translation. Two months after receiving this letter, President Gusmo decided not to promulgate the Penal Code because of the defamation law, and it had not been passed by the end of 2008.  The revised Penal Code was approved by the Council of Ministers and promulgated in April 2009, without a criminal defamation provision (although Article 285 still has the crime of "calumnious denunciation").

Follow this link for more information about a defamation case brought in late 2008, under the Indonesian law.

La'o Hamutuk

Timor-Leste Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis
1/1a Rua Mozambique, Farol, Dili, Timor Leste
Tel: +670-3325013 or +670-7234330

17 January 2006

To His Excellency, Mr. President of RDTL

We from the La'o Hamutuk Institute are writing this letter to you to share our thoughts about the Penal Code approved by the Constitutional Government of RDTL on 6 December 2005. According to published information, this Penal Code is a Decree-Law which considers defamation as a crime. This decree-law has raised much discussion and dissatisfaction in Timorese society. La'o Hamutuk knows that you now have this document at hand, waiting for you to study and promulgate it.

As a civil society organization whose work is based on principles of democracy and human rights, La'o Hamutuk also disagrees with this law. Consequently, we urge and request you as President of RDTL, to review this law before promulgating it. According to La'o Hamutuk's observations, this law should not be approved for the following reasons:

  1. This Decree-Law violates the RDTL Constitution, Article 6 which speaks about the goals of the state, Article 40 about freedom of expression and information, and also Article 41 about freedom of the press and other communications media.

  2. This Decree-Law violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19, which guarantees all citizens the right of to express their opinions and the freedom to receive information. Timor-Leste has already ratified this Declaration.

  3. This Decree-Law violates the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which has also been ratified by the Government of RDTL.

  4. This Decree-Law shows the lack of commitment of RDTL to Vision 2020, which states that it will promote freedom of the press.

  5. This Decree-Law will stifle the creativity of civil society and our people to offer criticism and self-criticism of the sovereign organs of Timor-Leste in the entire development process.

  6. This Decree-Law violates the democratic principles and human rights that our new nation struggles to promote, as a democratic nation which respects human rights.

Based on these observations and reasons, as a civil society organization, we urge your Excellency, President of the Republic of Timor-Leste, to use your right guaranteed by Article 85.c of the RDTL Constitution to veto this Decree-Law, and to ask the Court of Appeals to give their opinion on this law, before promulgating it.

We trust that with this power, you will make a decision which is satisfactory and just for all the people. And show that you respect and are committed to promote democratic principles and the right of freedom of the press for everyone to participate in the development process of this country.

In conclusion, we thank you for your consideration, and we hope that you will make a decision which is the best for all the people of Timor-Leste.


Ines Martins and Santina Soares
Representing La'o Hamutuk

Other organizations which have expressed concern about this law include the Timor-Leste Lawyers Association, Timor-Leste Journalists Association, Commission on Truth, Reception and Reconciliation (CAVR, Recommendation 3.5.6), East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN/U.S.), Southeast Asian Press Alliance, International Journalists' Network, International Press Institute, International Federation of Journalists, Committee to Protect Journalists and Internews/Article 19.

La'o Hamutuk's original letter:

La'o Hamutuk

Timor-Leste Institute for Reconstruction Monitoring and Analysis
1/1a Rua Mozambique, Farol, Dili, Timor Lorosa'e
Tel: +670-3325013 ka +670-7234330

Loron 17 Janeiru 2006

Ba: Excelentismo  Sr. Prezidente da RDTL

Ami husi Institusaun La'o Hamutuk hakarek karta ne'e ba ita bo'ot hodi hato'o ami nia hanoin kona ba Kodiko Penal nebe aprova  hosi Governo Konstitusional RDTL, iha loron 6 fulan Dezembro 2005. Hanesan  informasaun nebe mosu iha publico katak, iha Kodiko Penal ne'e, iha Decreto Lei ida nebe konsidera defamasaun  hanesan krime ida. Decreto lei ne'e hamosu diskusaun no insatisfeito barak iha sosiedade Timorense nia laran. La'o Hamutuk hatene  katak oras ne'e dokumentu lei ne'e iha ita bo'ot nia liman hein para atu estuda no atu promulga.

Hanesan organizasaun sociedade civil, nebe servico baseia ba prinsipiu democratico no prinsipiu direitus humanus, La'o Hamutuk mos la concorda ho decreito lei ne'e. Tamba ne'e, ami ejiji no husu ba ita bo'ot hanesan prezidente da RDTL, atu hare fila-fali lei ne'e antes atu promulga. Tuir La'o Hamutuk nia observasaun, decreito ne'e la bele aplika baseia ba razaun hirak tuir mai ne'e;

  1. Decreito de Lei ne viola Konstitusaun RDTL, artigu 6 nebe koalia kona ba objectivo do estado, artigu 40, nebe koalia kona ba liberdade da  expressaun no informasaun no mos artigu 41, nebe koalia kona ba liberdade da imprensa no meios komunicasaun sosial seluk.

  2. Decreito Lei ne'e viola Deklarasaun Universal Direitus Humanus nian, artiglo 19, nebe fo  garantia ba sidadaun hotu nia direitu ba liberdade no fo sai ninia hanoin no liberdade atu hetan informasaun. Timor Leste mos ratifika tiha ona deklarasaun ne'e. 

  3. Decreito de Lei ne'e viola Konvensaun Internasional ba Direitu Civil no Politico nebe mos ratifika tiha ona hosi Governo RDTL.

  4. Decreito de Lei ne'e hatudu incomitmentu nasaun RDTL nian ba visaun 2020, nebe hateten katak atu promove liberdade da imprensa.

  5. Decreito de Lei ne bele hamate kreatividade sociedade civil nian no povo nian atu hato kritika no autocritica ba orgaun soberania iha Timor Leste iha prosesu dezenvolvemento tomak.

  6. Decreito de lei ne'e viola prinsipiu democratiku no direitus humanus nebe nasaun foun ne'e esforsu-an atu promove prinsipiu sira ne'e, hanesan nasaun democratico no direitus humanus.

Baseia ba observasaun no razaun hirak nee, hanesan organizasaun sociedade Civil, ami hakarak ejiji ba Excelencia, Sr. Presidente da Republica Timor-Leste atu uza ninia direitu nebe garantia iha artigu 85, ponto c, Konstitusaun RDTL, atu veto decreto lei ne, no husu ba Tribunal Rekursu atu bele halo sira nia apresiasaun ba lei ne, antes promulga.

Ami fiar katak ho ita bot nia kbit ne'e, sei halo desizaun nebe mak satisfeitu e justu ba ema hotu. No mos hatudu katak ita bo'ot respeita no iha komitmentu atu promove prinsipius democracia e direitu liberdade da imprensa ba ema hotu atu participa iha prosesu dezenvolvimentu pais ida ne'e.

Mak ne'e deit no obrigado barak ba ita bo'ot ninia konsiderasaun, ami hein katak ita bo'ot sei foti desizaun nebe mak didiak ba povo hotu-hotu iha Timor-Leste.


Ines Martins ho Santina Soares
Reprezentante Tim La'o Hamutuk

The Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis (Lao Hamutuk)
Institutu Timor-Leste ba Analiza no Monitor ba Dezenvolvimentu
Rua D. Alberto Ricardo, Bebora, Dili, Timor-Leste
P.O. Box 340, Dili, Timor-Leste
Tel: +670-3321040 or +670-77234330
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