By Brandon Astor Jones
"Letters have always been serious business ... they can bring a smile, they can bring a tear ... they can do much. Letters are an act of faith." — Robert Epstein.
I was pleasantly surprised a while back to get a large stack of letters from a group of year 10 students attending Saint Aloysius College in South Australia. Their teacher decided to make writing letters to me a class project: "Social Justice" was the theme of her assignment. Some of their letters were nothing short of impressive. One young lady's letter was so poignant that I shared its content with the readers of this column on July 6, 1994.
Recently, I have been getting letters from other teachers, students and friends in which they frequently detail their concerns and outrage over what is happening in East Timor. In a leaflet containing a model letter that encourages readers to craft their own letter after it, I read, "From December to the present, there has been a serious deterioration in the human rights situation" there. It states further, "Authorities [have] continued to block visits of journalists, parliamentary delegations, and human rights monitors to the island". Moreover, Amnesty International reports that "torture, extrajudicial executions and disappearances" are common occurrences in Dili and Liquiza.
Since this column is published on various computer bulletin boards throughout the world, it is my hope that even more students and teachers will be moved to write letters of concern. A flood of letters sent to the right person quite possibly could save thousands of men, women and children from torture and perhaps even death.
Remember, "Letters are an act of faith ...", and it takes a degree of courage to write the kind of letter that follows. Will you write one? I hope so; if you do send it to:
Major General R. Udong Ruchiatna
Military Commander, Region IX/Udayana
Markas Besar KODAM IX/Udayana
Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia
Dear General Ruchiatna:
I am very concerned about the welfare of the many individuals who have been detained in East Timor, since the November demonstrations; and particularly those arrested on March 4, in Dili and Liquiza. It is my understanding that there have been reports of torture of detainees held in military and police custody. It also disturbs me that some of those in prison may have been detained solely because they peacefully expressed opposition to Indonesian rule.
Please see to it that the appropriate authorities reveal the whereabouts of, and charges against, all those detained on March 4, in Dili, Liquiza and any other place of detention in East Timor; and take steps to ensure their safety. I also urge that any prisoner who has been detained solely for the peaceful expression of his or her beliefs be released immediately.
Finally, I urgently request that independent human rights monitors be allowed access to East Timor. This is an important step to ensure that human rights abuses cease and will provide reassurance to the many people who are concerned about the situation there.
Thank you for your attention to my concerns. I look forward to the honour of a reply.
[The writer is a prisoner on death row in the United States. He is happy to receive letters commenting on his columns. He can be written to at: Brandon Astor Jones, EF-122216, G2-51, GD&CC, PO Box 3877, Jackson, GA 30233, USA.]