Free-press case pair cleared 7 years later

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2001, 12:00am

A former Amnesty International investigator and a Portuguese journalist have been cleared of abusing press freedom, seven years after they were alleged to have defamed a senior judge over a controversial extradition case.

In Macau's Court of First Instance, senior judge Mario Jose de Oliveira Chaves yesterday acquitted Pierre Robert and journalist Severo Portela of all charges related to an article that allegedly insinuated the independence of Macau's Judiciary might have come under pressure from Beijing.

The two defendants were not in court.

Mr Justice Chaves said the accusations were unfounded and that insufficient evidence had been provided to back them up.

Pedro Redinha, who represented Mr Robert, described the acquittal as a 'good solution that we have to applaud'.

The decision of the three-judge panel came three weeks after public prosecutors had requested the acquittal.

The article, which was based on an interview with Mr Robert, was published in the now defunct Macau Portuguese-language daily Futuro de Macau, which Mr Portela edited.

The original accusation claimed they had defamed Macau's judicial system by insinuating that a ruling by the chief justice at the time, Amaro Farinha Ribeiras - which would have allowed the extradition of three Chinese suspects from Macau to the mainland - might have been the result of pressure from Beijing.

Portugal's Constitutional Court later overturned the judge's ruling.

The controversy centred on Portugal's constitutional ban on extraditing suspects to a country where they would face capital punishment if convicted of their alleged crimes.

The hearing was only held last month because of procedural delays, according to a judicial source.