According to The Myanmar Times, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is filing a libel suit. Not as one might think against the government and its years of slandering her, but rather against her brother, U Aung San Oo. The two notoriously don’t get along and have disputed ownership of Daw Suu’s house on 54 University Ave. Recently, U Aung San Oo published an article in the Monitor in which he claimed that he won the dispute, even though the more recent case hasn’t been resolved. The Rangoon Region High Court decided to accept the case last week.
The case is interesting for two reasons. First, I think this is the first time a court has accepted a lawsuit initiated by Suu Kyi herself. Second, as I’ve mentioned before, Southeast Asian leaders love libel law (how’s that for alliteration). I don’t think Suu Kyi is coming anywhere close to Lee Kuan Yew, but I also haven’t heard her talk about the role of libel law in political life. How far would she go in balancing the right to information with the right to privacy? If I have another chance to ask her questions, I’ll try to get that one in.
Two bits of news came out today that throw up further questions about Indonesia’s legal system. Over a year ago, I mentioned a case in which an Indonesian woman, Slamet Yuwono, was sued for defamation after she’d posted negative comments on Facebook. At the time, she had won on appeal. However, now the Supreme Court has found her guilty and sentenced her to six months imprisonment. According to an interview in The Jakarta Post, her lawyer claimed:
Making a comment is everybody’s right… If that kind of regulation is implemented, there would be many Indonesians in jail because of negative comments on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
In other news, according to The Jakarta Post, President Yudhoyono issued a decree to temporarily suspend Imas Dianasari, judge allegedly caught accepting a bribe on June 30. Unilaterally suspending judges is, to say the least, an exceptional power, granted in response to concerns over the corruption in Indonesia’s judiciary. As far as I can recall, this is the first time under SBY’s administration Indonesia that the president suspended a judge (although I’m not sure on this point). It’ll be worth keeping an eye out to see how this power is used in the future.
As I’ve mentioned before, libel is a serious crime in Singapore. According to BBC, U.K. author Alan Shadrake was recently convicted of defaming the judiciary and sentenced to 6 weeks and S$20,000. In particular, Shadrake accused judges of not being impartial in death penalty cases. It’s too bad Singapore has adopted such heavy handed tactics – its judiciary otherwise ranks amongst the best in Asia, if not the world.
Singapore’s reigning PAP has become notorious for his use of libel suits against opposition politicians. Others have joined the club. Dr. Mahathir, Malaysia’s strongman-turned-blogger, is now threatening to sue author Barry Wain regarding a critical biography he wrote about the ex-PM. Private companies have also used the technique. In Indonesia, a hospital sued a woman for libel after her negative comments were posted on facebook (fortunately, she won the case).
The use of law to silence critics is nothing new in Southeast Asia. Indeed, libel laws are popular because they not only discourage political activism, but also any open criticism. Active censorship is relatively costly, requiring numerous personnel to read over publications for any hint of political criticism. By contrast, a libel lawsuit targets only one critic but sends a chilling effect throughout the system (especially when the government claims large damages).
However, I’ve seen much less discussion of the jurisprudential doctrine of libel law in Southeast Asia. What exactly is libel? Does the outcome of the case depend on the power of the plaintiff, amount of damages claimed, or a combination? Most importantly, have any defendants won libel cases, and if so in what circumstances? I apologize this isn’t an area I know much about, so I invite readers to leave comments if they have insights.