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August 3, 2008

Indonesian court asked to rethink Time ruling

Indonesia's Supreme Court should reverse a one trillion rupiah ($110 million) libel ruling against Time magazine in favour of former president Suharto, Reuters quoted a group of more than 20 media and rights organisations as saying.

The case is seen by many as an important test of Indonesia's independent legal system and freedom of speech.

The group's amici curiae -- a brief filed with a court by someone who is not a party to the case but is worried about its implications -- warned the case could deter foreign investment.

"The judgment against Time is so manifestly wrong that many in the international business community now question Indonesia's commitment to transparency and the rule of law," said the brief that Time's lawyer Defrizal Djamaris said was filed to the Supreme Court on Thursday.

The organisations backing the brief, which is not common in the Indonesian legal system, include The New York Times, the Economist, Human Rights Watch and the Indonesian Press Council.

Time, owned by Time Warner Inc, published a May 1999 cover story alleging that Suharto, who died in hospital in January aged 86, and his family had amassed a fortune of around $15 billion, including $9 billion in an Austrian bank account.

Time won two appeals in lower courts, but in September 2007 the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Suharto and ordered Time to pay damages and to print apologies.

The magazine filed a petition to Indonesia's Supreme Court in February to reverse the ruling.

Muhammad Assegaf, a Suharto family lawyer, said the media-led group's action amounted to interference in the legal process.

"We are awaiting a Supreme Court's decision on the case. How very improper that a move like this stands in the way of the process," he told Reuters.

Suharto ruled Indonesia for more than three decades until he was toppled in 1998 amid a financial crisis and economic collapse. Many members of his family and circle of friends won attractive contracts and deals during his rule.

Transparency International put Suharto's assets at between $15 billion and $35 billion, but he and his family have always denied any wrongdoing.

Suharto was charged with embezzling hundreds of million dollars after he left office, but the government later dropped the case because of his poor health.

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