Subject: ABC: Controversial immigration Bill under fire

EAST TIMOR: Controversial immigration Bill under fire 09/04/2003 10:26:27 | Asia Pacific Programs

Human rights activists and legal experts in East Timor have condemned proposed moves to limit the freedom of foreigners. Under its controversial immigration and asylum law, the goverment aims to curtail the activities of foreigners, effectively giving it the green light to deport anyone involved in activities of a 'political nature'.


KEADY: The proposed Immigration and Asylum Law, which was approved by the council of ministers in February, is seen to impose strict provisions on a foreigners right to freedom of speech and assembly.

Under Article 11 of the law, foreign citizens would not be allowed to exercise or organise activities of a political nature, and are prevented among other things from participating in demonstrations. There are also stipulations regarding foreign ownership in communications and aviation.

The laws would threaten international civic programs currently advising parliament and has been interpreted by some as an attempt to limit foreign influence on the political landscape.

In a flurry of diplomatic activity a number of concerned countries have appealed to the UN's Special Representative in Timor. It's thought that US and Australian aid programs may also be affected if the law is passed.

But in an interview with the ABC, President of Timor's parliament, Luolo Guterres defended the proposed law as protecting East Timor's sovereignty and not about keeping foreigners out.

GUTERRES: "East Timor lives in a very specific context. There are a lot of foreigners entering the national territory illegally and in this situation I think that the article 11 not only restrict but also give power to the Timorese people regarding their national sovereignty. This doesn't mean that we don't want foreigners entering the country but that foreigners who enter our territory have their rights but also their duties as foreigners."

KEADY: He also raised the issue of foreigner's involvement in the December 4th civil unrest.

GUTERRES: "The government still doesn't have proof, I personally have seen foreigners getting directly or indirectly involved in those demonstrations. An important observation that I want to make about article 11 in this Bill, is that laws can be revoked at any time, but in the specific situation of East Timor now, we need an article like article 11."

KEADY: Human rights groups in East Timor however, say it could jeopardise the legitimate work of international NGO's working in the country and also send dangerous signals about democratic rights in this young country.

Charlie Scheiner is from East Timor's L'ao Hamatuk:

SCHEINER: "The constitution of East Timor which was adopted almost exactly a year ago says very clearly that all people have the rights, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association. This law says that not all people have those rights only; well it doesn't say whether East Timorese citizens have the rights but clearly foreigners don't have the rights. They can only go in certain kinds of assemblies; they can only speak about certain things, they can only associate with certain people. I think it would be a concern in any country to allow an individual government official to make decisions about who he thinks offends the dignity of East Timorese people or not. It's something I think that doesn't bode well for the future of democracy in this country."

KEADY: Asylum and Immigration procedures in the bill have also been roundly criticised but the government has responded by saying it gives more rights than those conferred by one of its largest neighbours, Australia.

Transcripts from programs "AM", "The World Today", "PM", the "7:30 Report" and "Lateline" are created by an independent transcription service. The ABC does not warrant the accuracy of the transcripts. ABC Online users are advised to listen to the audio provided on this page to verify the accuracy of the transcripts.

09/04/2003 10:26:27 | Asia Pacific Programs

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