Subject: ETObs: PP02 - Political Prisoners in ET: scrutiny of three Presidential amnesties
Date: Mon, 11 Jan 1999 20:40:30 +0100
From: Comissão para os Direitos do Povo Maubere <>

East Timor Observatory / Observatorio Timor Leste / Observatoire Timor-Oriental

All peoples have the right to self-determination... all armed action or repressive measures of all kinds directed against dependent peoples shall cease in order to enable them to exercise peacefully and freely their right to complete independence. (Declaration on the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples - UN Gen.Ass. Resolution 1514, 14/12/1960)

Ref.: PP02-1999/01/08eng

Subject: Political Prisoners in East Timor: scrutiny of three Presidential amnesties

Summary: Since becoming President of Indonesia following the fall of Suharto, Yusuf Habibie passed three decrees proclaiming amnesties for political prisoners, or the withdrawal of charges against them before their trial. Among those included in the "amnesties" were 52 East Timorese political prisoners. The details of their individual cases have been studied and checked against information released by international organisations and the East Timor Observatory’s own data. Following are some of the conclusions that emerged:

1 – The number of East Timorese political prisoners is, in reality, about 3 times higher than the number that international organisations such as Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) had managed to confirm. 2 – About two-thirds of the prisoners "amnestied" had already served more time in prison than the length of the sentence originally passed on them by the Indonesian courts. 3 – The choice of prisoners included in the amnesties appears to be haphazard: prisoners with long sentences ahead of them have been released, while others who have already served their sentences still remain in prison.

Background: . The fall of President Suharto in May 1998 brought the question of political prisoners in both Indonesia and East Timor to the forefront. . On 10 June 1998, the new President of Indonesia amnestied 15 East Timorese political prisoners. . On 5 August, "accelerating the release of political prisoners" became one of Indonesia’s commitments undertaken before Portugal and the UN Secretary General, in the framework of the negotiations. . Indonesia’s Independence celebrations on 17 August and the start of the new year were marked by two further amnesties, which benefited 10 and 27 Timorese prisoners respectively.

The facts: . Since June 1998, 52 prisoners have been "amnestied". . Neither the Indonesian judicial system nor Armed Forces is willing to provide any figures nor personal details of political prisoners, so that the identity of those detained may be known. . Human rights organisations AI and HRW, both of which have been working on East Timor for many years, combined their data on Timorese political prisoners and drew up the most complete list possible. On 4 June, they released a list of 87 prisoners, whom they could confirm were in detention. . Of the 52 prisoners "amnestied" by the President, only 17 actually appear on the AI-HRW list of 87. This means that the two human rights organisations only knew about approximately one-third of the prisoners released by Indonesia. . The East Timor Observatory is unable to comment on the legality (in the context of Indonesian justice) of continued imprisonment in the cases of 23 of the "amnestied" prisoners, either because the prisoner has not yet been brought to trial or their arrest date or sentence is not known. . Two of the prisoners "pardoned" by President Habibie had, in fact, already been released by court order. . Of the 27 prisoners on which the Observatory does have sufficient information, 17 (nearly two-thirds of those "amnestied") had already served their prison sentences in full and were, therefore, being held illegally under Indonesian law. Only 10 appear to have been genuinely amnestied.

. Of a group of 21 young Timorese imprisoned for taking part in a demonstration on 10 June 1996 in Baucau, 13 were amnestied (2 in June, 4 in August and 7 at New Year). There seems to be no correlation between the releases and sentences, since prisoners with longer sentences have been released first, while others who have already served more time than their original sentences have been kept in prison. (In one case, a prisoner who has served over three times the length of his original sentence is still being held.) . In a different group, a prisoner sentenced to 16 years imprisonment was amnestied after having served 18 months of his sentence, while others in the group serving 10-year sentences for the same charges are still in prison.


1. The UN Commission on Human Rights, through the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, stated that the imprisonment of the 21 young Timorese following the June 1996 demonstration had been "contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights". 2. Their imprisonment was doubly illegal given that 9 of the 13 who were "amnestied" had served more time than the sentences passed on them by the Indonesian courts themselves. 3. Their imprisonment was triply illegal because it was carried out by Indonesian forces that are occupying East Timor illegally, in violation of UN principles and resolutions. 4. We do not know whether the remaining 8 young Timorese in this group, who have not been "amnestied", are still in prison and, if so, in which prison, because the Indonesian authorities refuse to release such information. All ought to have been released by now because not only was their detention declared contrary to human rights principles but also they have already served the sentences passed on them by the Indonesian court. 5. The criteria applied to the "amnesties" seem to bear no logical relation to the sentences, and the very arbitrariness of the releases could well be an intentional way to create division among the prisoners and community at large.

. All Timorese political prisoners are being held illegally for the three reasons given above. . From the number of prisoners among those "amnestied" who were known to AI-HRW (only approximately one-third of the total), we calculate that, in June last year, over 260 Timorese political prisoners were being held in Indonesian jails. Reports from Timor indicate that arrests and imprisonment are continuing. If amnesties continue at the present pace, the problem of political prisoners will never be resolved.


. Drawing up lists of East Timorese political prisoners, their legal situation and, particularly, the length of the sentence passed on them by the court, is a major priority. . Under the Indonesian judicial system itself, the immediate release of all prisoners who have served their sentences is a matter of justice – not presidential amnesty. . The UN, especially the UNCHR’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, ought, as a matter of urgency, to supervise information gathering on East Timorese political prisoners and the release process itself.

We suggest you write, referring to the above points, to the following :

Mr. Kofi Annan UN Secretary General United Nations 1, United Nations Plaza N.Y. 10017 USA

Ms. Mary Robinson High Commissioner for Human Rights United Nations CH-1221 Geneva Switzerland

Mr. K. Sibal Chairman of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention United Nations CH-1221 Geneva Switzerland

Documents: List of the 52 Timorese political prisoners who were "amnestied".

Observatory for the monitoring of East Timor’s transition process a programme by the ‘Comissão para os Direitos do Povo Maubere’ and the ecumenical group ‘A Paz é Possível em Timor Leste’ Coordinator: Cristina Cruz ----------------------- Rua Pinheiro Chagas, 77 2ºE - 1050-176 Lisboa - Portugal ph.: 351 1 317 28 60 - fax: 351 1 317 28 70 - e-mail:

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