Stephen Langford, long term solidarity activist with Timor Leste and secretary of the Australia East Timor Association NSW in the 1980s and 1990s, was awarded the Order of Timor Medal in a special ceremony in Maliana, Timor Leste, on May 20 as part of Independence Day celebrations.
The Indonesian government illegally occupied Timor Leste for 24 years from 1975 to 1999. The Australian government was complicit in the invasion, never opposing the actions of the Indonesian government, despite five Australian journalists being killed by the Indonesian military just before the invasion.
Langford and other Australians were inspired to form the Australia East Timor Association after hearing Jose Ramos Horta, the exiled Foreign Affairs spokesperson for Timor Leste, speak about the illegal occupation of his country. Langford become a solidarity activist in 1985 and campaigned until 1999 when the Indonesian military finally left Timor Leste.
The focus of the solidarity campaign in Australia was to put political pressure on the Australian government to withdraw support for the illegal occupation of Timor Leste. They wanted the Australian government to stop providing military training for Indonesian troops, and to denounce the actions of the Indonesian government and demand an end to the occupation.
The solidarity campaign finally succeeded in 1999 when the Timorese people were able to vote for an end to the occupation.
After receiving the Order of Timor medal, Langford said it was a great honour as “it’s not often trouble makers get awarded for making trouble”.
Langford drew parallels between the Indonesian military’s actions while occupying Timor Leste to the ongoing atrocities being committed by Indonesian military in West Papua now. Once again the Australian government is complicit, turning a blind eye to yet another illegal occupation and war-time atrocities.
The refusal of the Australian government to interfere in the illegal occupation of Timor Leste was a bi-partisan position. Langford said that the overturning of this position was proof that “we can break a bi-partisan policy through public pressure. We’ve done it before by mobilising people and getting active.” Langford compared this to the current bi-partisan refugee policy of turning back the boats and offshore detention. “Refugee activists can learn from the Timor Leste solidarity campaign,” he said.
Langford said it was an honour to receive the medal but the credit should go to all the solidarity activists who took part in the campaign.