site menu spacer East Timor Action Network Sues New York City

EAST TIMOR ACTION NETWORK FILES FIRST AMENDMENT LAWSUIT SEEKING A PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION THAT WOULD REQUIRE THE NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION TO GRANT THE GROUP’S REQUEST FOR A TEMPORARY STREET RENAMING IN TIME FOR JULY 17 COMMEMORATION

New York (May 19, 1999) - Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a civil rights lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on behalf of the East Timor Action Network, Inc. (“ETAN”), a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to self-determination and human rights for the people of East Timor. East Timor, which is a territory situated 400 miles north of Australia in the Indonesian archipelego, was annexed by Indonesia on July 17, 1976.

On March 19, 1999, ETAN mailed a request to the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) pursuant to DOT’s Standard Operating Procedure 96-1 (SOP 96-1). SOP 96-1 permits any person or organization who complies with the requirements specified therein -- all of which were met by ETAN -- to temporarily rename a New York City street to commemorate, among other things, “an event or person of historic significance.” ETAN requested that two temporary street signs commemorating the 23rd anniversary of the annexation of East Timor by Indonesia, bearing the words “Free East Timor,” be posted near the Indonesian Consulate, which is located on East 68th Street, between Fifth and Madison Avenues in Manhattan, in time for the signs to be unveiled at an anniversary commemoration that ETAN plans to hold at that location on July 17, 1999. DOT, by letter dated May 11, 1999, denied ETAN’s request without providing ETAN with a valid reason for the denial.

ETAN is claiming that its First Amendment right to freedom of speech was unconstitutionally denied by the DOT’s refusal to allow it to express a message central to its mission in a public forum that would attract a wide audience. ETAN will ask the court to issue a preliminary injunction requiring defendants to approve ETAN’s March 19, 1999 application and requiring DOT to post the requested temporary street signs in time for the July 17, 1999 commemoration.

John Miller, the Coordinator of ETAN’s New York Chapter, stated that "July 17, 1976 was a dark day for East Timor. Indonesia's invasion and annexation of East Timor has led to over two decades of violent repression and the loss of over 200,000 East Timorese lives. The street sign we have requested are meant to remind Indonesia of its commitment to allow a free and fair vote by the East Timorese this August 8th. I can't see how anyone, especially the City of New York, could view the promotion of democracy as controversial."

Nancy Chang, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, explained, "This City has a long and rich history of allowing its street signs to be used as a forum for political speech. From Tienanmen Square Corner, to United Jerusalum Way, to Kudirat Abiola Corner, to Brothers to the Rescue Corner, City signs have often been the subject of heated controversy. The City’s decision to deny ETAN’s request for a sign renaming, despite the fact that it meets all necessary requirements, is unreasonable and can only be explained as unconstitutional discrimination based on the content of ETAN’s speech.."

ETAN is represented by Nancy Chang and Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights and Matthew Brinckerhoff of Emery Cuti Brinckerhoff & Abady.

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