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An Indonesian union is suing two Australian newspapers and the U.S. embassy in Jakartafor for libel over stories originating from WikiLeaks.(Credit: Herald Sun, Screenshot detail, highlight added)

Two Australian newspapers and the U.S. embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia are being sued by an Indonesian union for $1 billion over stories originating from WikiLeaks, the AFP reported.

The union, the State-Owned Enterprise’s Labour Union, allege that the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald’s stories based on WikiLeaks cables are defamatory and “have ruined our national pride.”

According to the AFP, the union’s lawyer, Habiburokhman, stated that the stories “have tarnished the good name of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and gave the image that Indonesia is a corrupt country.”  Habiburokhman went on:

“The cables did not say Yudhoyono had abused power so their headline was misleading. They cooked up their own story to make our president look bad.”

The Age’s article “Yudhoyono: Abused Power” was published March 11 and cites WikiLeaks cables (but none specifically) as revealing that Yudhoyono “has personally intervened to influence prosecutors and judges to protect corrupt political figures and pressure his adversaries, while using the Indonesian intelligence service to spy on political rivals and, at least once, a senior minister in his own government.”

The story also claimed that Yudhoyono’s former vice president bought “control of Indonesia’s largest political party”

Yudhoyono responded to the stories and claims.  The Jakarta Post quoted him as saying:

“Yes, of course we will find out who is the truly democratic one, and who is not – who is the one giving reports, making accusations and passing judgment in the mass media, in diplomacy, which is damaging greatly one’s reputation,” he said. “This might be labeled as character assassination.”

“I think this is enough already. We don’t have to remain a part of this uproar because there are more important things for us to do. I do not want to become too reactive and emotional.”

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Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) won’t open an investigation into the claims of corruption.  Its decision was backed by Indonesia Corruption Watch.

“The KPK said the unsubstantiated nature of the claims, which were largely accounts of conversations between US diplomats and Indonesian political and intelligence figures, did not meet its threshold to launch an inquiry.”

”The KPK needs hard documents or detailed information like who met whom, where, when,” spokesperson Johan Budi, is quoted as saying. ”The contents [of the cables] are only about loose information.”

iMediaEthics searched WikiLeaks cable viewer website.  There were two cables from the Jakarta Embassy, one published Jan. 19, 2011 and the second published Feb. 18, 2011.

In a statement on its website, the U.S. embassy in Jakarta noted that the U.S. State Department “does not comment on materials, including classified documents, which may have been leaked.  However, as the Secretary of State has said, the United States deeply regrets the disclosure of any information that was intended to be confidential, including private discussions between counterparts or our diplomats’ personal assessments and observations.”

The statement went on:

“This type of publication is extremely irresponsible and we express our deepest regrets to President Yudhoyono and the Indonesian people.”

Besides the lawsuit, the Sydney Morning Herald noted that “a small group of protesters held a demonstration at the US embassy” where they tore up newspapers and called for an apology.

iMediaEthics has written to both the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald asking for comment and asking which specific WikiLeaks cables it used as sources.  We will update with any response.

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WikiLeaks-Based Reports Cause Libel Lawsuits Filed by Indonesian Union

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