Her Excellency Megawati Sukarnoputri
President, Republic of Indonesia
Office of the President
Bina Graha, Jalan Veteran No. 1
Jakarta Pusat, Indonesia
Via facsimile: 62-21-778-182
New York, December 12, 2001—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) welcomes yesterday's announcement that the killers of journalist Agus Muliawan were among those convicted of "crimes against humanity" in connection with the violence that surrounded East Timor's August 1999 vote for independence from Indonesia.
The Special Panel for Serious Crimes of the District Court in the East Timor capital, Dili, issued the verdicts on December 11. This landmark case marks the first successful prosecution for crimes against humanity in East Timor.
At its most fundamental level, the job of a journalist is to bear witness. In 1999, journalists in Sierra Leone witnessed rebels' atrocities against civilians in the streets of Freetown. In the Balkans, journalists watched ethnic Albanians fleeing the deadly menace of Serbian police and paramilitaries. In Indonesia, they recorded the violence of Indonesian-backed militias against supporters of political independence. Some who wrote about what they witnessed ended up dying because of the stories they told.
In August, as East Timor prepared to vote on whether to declare independence from Indonesia, military-backed, pro-Indonesia militias threatened, harassed and physically assaulted journalists covering the disputed territory. The attacks began shortly after the announcement in March of a United Nations-brokered agreement to hold an August 30 referendum on the independence issue.
The Indonesian military was bitterly opposed to the referendum, having occupied the former Portuguese colony in 1975 and fought a protracted war against independence. On April 17, following an escalating series of threats, rampaging militia members sacked the offices of Suara Timor Timur ("The Voice of East Timor"), the territory's only daily newspaper. The paper was shut down for more than two weeks, and many of its employees were driven into hiding. At about the same time, foreign journalists in East Timor began to face threats and beatings from the militias.
October 8, 1999 - An East Timorese farmer said he witnessed the shooting of Sander Thoenes, a Dutch correspondent killed near Dili last month (map), according to The Christian Science Monitorand wire service reports.
Alexandre Estevao said the gunmen wore Indonesian military uniforms with insignia for Battalion 745, a unit of East Timorese known for their loyalty to Indonesia.