East Timor: Mass arrests at May Day march

Eighty four protesters were arrested at a May Day protest in Dili. The 84 were placed in a detention centre.

More than 100 protesters had marched to the Hotel Timor, a four star hotel in Dili, on May 1 to demand a pay rise and to stop sackings of local staff. Four staff of the hotel had recently been dismissed after being accused of stealing.

The demonstrators chose May 1, the International Workers' Day, to express their concerns and demand their rights.

The rally had been organised by the Socialist Peasant Workers Union of Timor (STCST), together with student activists and the local staff who had been sacked.

The rally began peacefully in the morning. However, on arrival at the hotel, protest organisers argued with police who said the rally was illegal because notice had not been provided in advance.

After police arrested the protest coordinator, protesters started throwing stones. Some stones reportedly cracked the windscreen of a police car and a window of the hotel.

The police fired tear gas and brutally beat the demonstrators. As a result of the police reaction, six of the protesters were hospitalised with injuries.

After being detained at Dili police headquarters, the protesters were interviewed by prosecutors at Dili District court on May 3 over allegations of disturbing public facilities and conducting an illegal demonstration.

The protesters are being assisted by two public defenders and one solicitor from a legal aid institution. The case is to be heard by international judges.

The law covering demonstrations approved by the former Fretilin government says organisers have to provide an official notification to the police 72 hours before a planned demonstration. Demonstrations must take place a minimum of 100 metres from government or embassy buildings.

All the protesters have been released from detention.