Arrests, torture continue in Timor


By Norm Dixon

While the Indonesian government has yet to arrest or charge a single member of the military force responsible for the massacre of up to 180 people on November 12, at least 56 East Timorese remain in detention.

Of the 56, 22 were detained in Jakarta, two in Bali and the rest in Dili. Officials said some would go on trial for subversion, which carries the death penalty. It has been reported that some of those detained have been tortured and denied access to their own defence lawyers.

Sebastiana Saldanha, mother of Jose Maria Saldanha Ribeiro, a Timorese student who was arrested on November 24 in Bali, has described her son's ordeal in a plea to the international community to help win the freedom of those arrested in the aftermath of the massacre.

She wrote: "I have received word that he and the other students have been maltreated and tortured, that his face is unrecognisable and that he is unable to walk ... The Indonesian authorities have forged evidence in an attempt to incriminate them for things they did not do. It is said that, if they go on trial, they will not have access to a defence lawyer and that they are liable to be condemned to death if they are convicted ..."

Another 100 East Timorese were seized from their homes on January 24 in raids by Indonesian soldiers. Among those arrested was a senior Fretilin leader, Jose da Costa. Fretilin's representative in Australia, Alfredo Ferreira, has received information that da Costa has been tortured.

Three East Timorese also recently faced trial for passing secret documents to resistance spokesperson Jose Ramos Horta. The documents, whose contents have not been revealed, later made their way to the Portuguese government. According to Radio Renascenca, the Portuguese Catholic radio station, Filismine dos Santos Conceicao, a woman civilian worker at the Korem military headquarters, was sentenced at the Dili district court to seven years' jail on January 20. The trial lasted only a day. The two others — Afonso Rangel and Amaro Araujo — appeared in court on January 24 but the outcome is unknown at this stage.

The Indonesian Human Rights Campaign, TAPOL, described the sentence as an "outrageous travesty of justice". TAPOL pointed out that "many political trials held in Dili in the mid-1980s were one-day affairs, with defendants given no chance to appoint their own defence lawyers or prepare a proper defence."

The Portuguese government also condemned the trial. A foreign ministry spokesperson said it was an attempt by Indonesia to shift the blame to the East Timorese for "an act of the most shocking brutality committed by Indonesian troops." The spokesperson added that Jakarta's inquiry into the Dili massacre had failed to explain the "cool, calm and disciplined way the shots were fired, and the systematic attacks and even stabbings of the wounded and detained

Lisbon repeated its call for a detailed international inquiry. Portuguese foreign minister Joao de Deus Pinheiro has also sought the backing of the new UN secretary-general, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, for a plan to bring East Timorese groups into direct dialogue with their Indonesian occupiers.

Unfortunately, the Portuguese government remains virtually alone in its continued pressure against the Indonesian government. During a recent visit to Washington, President Mario Soares sought President Bush's help in holding Indonesia accountable for its misdeeds. But after the meeting, the White House issued a statement that failed to mention that East Timor had even been raised.

The Netherlands government announced on January 14 that it would resume development aid to Indonesia, which it suspended in November following the massacre. Dutch foreign minister Hans van den Broek and development aid minister Jan Pronk said in a letter to parliament they were "encouraged" by the provisional report of the Indonesian commission of inquiry into the shootings.

The Australian government's meek acceptance of the inquiry's findings has provoked some rumblings within the federal Labor caucus. Garrie Gibson, MP for Moreton in Queensland, and Warren Snowdon, member for the Northern Territory, have both called on the Australian government to raise the issue of East Timor in the United Nations.

Snowdon said that he had received "very strong evidence that people in East Timor have been tortured".

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