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Subject: ETHRC Media Release: East Timorese Political Prisoners
Date: Tue, 23 Jun 1998 18:39:07 -1000
From: ethrc <ethrc@minihub.org>

EAST TIMOR HUMAN RIGHTS CENTRE 124 Napier St Fitzroy 3065 Australia PO BOX 1413 Collingwood 3066 Australia Tel: +61 3 9415 8225 Fax: +61 3 9415 8218 E-mail: ethrc@minihub.org Director: Ms Maria Brett Chair: Bishop Hilton Deakin

________________________________________________________________________

MEDIA RELEASE

"East Timorese Political Prisoners"

23 June 1998 Ref: SPR1/98 ________________________________________________________________________

Since the 1975 invasion of East Timor by Indonesia, many East Timorese people opposed to Indonesian rule have been detained and convicted for their political activities. Often, the detainees have done nothing more than express their political views by non-violent means, while others have allegedly been involved in politically motivated activities involving violence. Detainees who are charged, are tried and convicted in Indonesian courts, even though Indonesia's sovereignty over East Timor has not been recognised by the United Nations and it is questionable whether Indonesian courts have the competence to try East Timorese people. There are frequent reports of political prisoners being convicted at trials which fail to meet international standards of fairness, with convictions being based on information obtained by torture and ill-treatment, and suspects being denied access to independent legal counsel.

With the recent change in presidency in Indonesia, there is an opportunity for genuine political reform in Indonesia, and a resolution of the East Timor conflict. President Habibie has acknowledged that political reform must include the release of political prisoners and some Indonesian and East Timorese prisoners have already been released. In total, twenty-nine East Timorese political prisoners have been released, a positive step which is welcomed by the East Timor Human Rights Centre (ETHRC). On 1 June, the Semarang court handed down a not-guilty verdict for four East Timorese prisoners who were standing trial for their alleged involvement in a bomb-manufacturing operation in Semarang, Indonesia. On 10 June, President Habibie announced that fifteen East Timorese political prisoners would be released. The group included six people who were given an amnesty and another nine against whom all charges were withdrawn. A further ten East Timorese people facing charges were released on 13 June.

The releases are welcomed as an important sign of the new President's commitment to political reform, however, if President Habibie is genuinely committed to political reform he must go much further and release other East Timorese political prisoners. In particular, the government of Indonesia should immediately and unconditionally release Xanana Gusmão, leader of the East Timorese Resistance. The ETHRC believes Xanana Gusmão, as President of the CNRT (National Council of Timorese Resistance, the united political front of the Resistance), should be released to enable him to participate in the dialogue for a solution to the East Timor conflict. The unconditional release of Xanana Gusmão would be a significant gesture of good will on the part of the government of Indonesia and such a gesture is clearly needed in the interests of reconciliation and as a sign of the new government's commitment to resolving the East Timor problem.

In the same spirit of reconciliation, and as a confidence-building measure, the ETHRC believes the government of Indonesia should release all other East Timorese political prisoners. This must include the release of the five East Timorese prisoners of conscience convicted for their non-violent political activities and any other prisoners of conscience still in detention, and up to 141 other political prisoners who, it is believed, have been convicted or are awaiting trial for their politically motivated activities.

It is believed the number of East Timorese actually detained could be much higher but it impossible to obtain names of all detainees because access to East Timor is so strictly controlled. Some detainees could in fact be prisoners of conscience, but without more information, it is impossible to determine the real reason for their detention. It is also difficult to ascertain how many of the political prisoners have been sentenced at unfair trials, how many have been convicted on the basis of information extracted by torture, and how many have received unduly harsh sentences. This highlights the need for access to East Timor for international human rights organisations, which at present is not allowed.

The importance of releasing all East Timorese political prisoners as a confidence-building measure cannot be underestimated, given the fact that serious human rights violations have been perpetrated in East Timor for the last twenty-three years.

The East Timor Human Rights Centre's report includes tables with details of East Timorese political prisoners believed to be in detention in East Timor and Indonesia.

For further information and a copy of the full report contact:

Maria Brett, Executive Director

Telephone: +613 9145 8225 E-mail: ethrc@minihub.org