Subject: Indonesian photojournalist captures E. Timor's pain

The Yomiuri Shimbun 07/08/2000

Photojournalist captures E. Timor's pain

by Kakuya Ishida, Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

A university student lies face-down in a road in the East Timor capital Dili, a river of blood seeping from his head. His killers were members of a pro-Indonesia militia that took to the streets in the lead-up to the Aug. 30 referendum on independence for the troubled territory. A mother's eyes well up with tears as she mourns the death of her son, a militia leader killed by pro-independence activists during the same turbulent period. Another woman holds a ballot to her chest as she waits anxiously to cast her vote in a poll that will decide East Timor's future. These are just three of the startling black-and-white photographs on display through July 31 at the Indonesia Cultural Plaza, a center established in Shimo-Ochiai, Tokyo, to promote Japan-Indonesian cross-cultural exchange.

All were taken by Indonesian photojournalist Eddy Hasby, 34, of KOMPAS, Indonesia's largest daily newspaper. Hasby had originally planned to hold the exhibition in Indonesia and bring out an accompanying collection. But the publishing company that had agreed to sponsor the project suddenly withdrew support "for political reasons," claiming Hasby's photos were "too provocative."

The exhibition contains 24 pictures themed "signs of independence," and another 10 featuring Indonesian children apparently dreaming of a better future--one of the major themes of Hasby's career. According to Seiichi Okawa, organizer of the exhibition and Tokyo bureau chief of the Indonesian weekly news magazine GAMMA, many Indonesians want to forget what he describes as East Timor's "nightmarish past." In this sense, Hasby's pictures bear witness to uncomfortable truths some would prefer swept under the carpet. "I strongly believe that the journalist's role is to record incidents as historical facts, whatever their contents," Hasby said.

Hailing from Palembang in southern Sumatra, Hasby began working part-time at a local daily newspaper while a university student in Jogjakarta. Intrigued by the world of photojournalism, he quit school to become a full-time cameraman and has worked for KOMPAS since 1994. In 1995, he won the grand prize of a photo contest held in commemoration of UNESCO's 50th anniversary. Hasby's entry was a powerful image of children scavenging through a Jakarta dump.

For about three months before and after last year's referendum, Hasby travelled repeatedly between Jakarta and Dili. Indonesian troops stationed on the island kept a tight reign on the activities of foreign journalists, but these restrictions did not apply to Hasby. Even so, he had some narrow escapes. "Once, when I was trying to get some better photographs of shootings between pro- and anti-independence groups, a bullet smashed into a piece of wood I was sheltering behind," he said. "Some of my colleagues were killed by the gunfire. "On voting day, a colleague and I received anonymous phone calls saying we were on a hit list and ordering us to leave the island. "When the Indonesian Army started withdrawing from East Timor, the foreign press rushed off the island. But I was one of only a few Indonesian cameramen to remain at the last moment as Indonesia abandoned the territory." Okawa added: "There is still a lot of concern over the future of East Timor, namely that forces exist in West Timor that may seek unification with Indonesia and cause a long delay in the creation of an independent nation. But it is meaningful to look back through objectively taken photographic records at how Indonesia lost the territory."

Meanwhile, Hasby's plans to publish a collection of East Timor photographs remain on ice. "It's all set to go, but it's very hard to find sponsors (for such a politically charged project) in my country," Hasby said. Okawa intends to help if he can, and has set up a donation collection box at the exhibition. He says they need to raise between 1.2 million yen and 1.4 million yen to bring out a 242-page photo collection. Whatever happens, Hasby's photos will be on show at Ritsumeikan University's Kyoto Museum for World Peace from Sept. 27 to Oct. 10. Plans are also afoot to hold an exhibition in mid-October at a municipal library in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture. For more information, call the Indonesian Cultural Plaza at (03) 5331-3310 or access (www.harapan.co.jp/Indonesia/GBI/GBI_index.htm).


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