Sander Thoenes

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Despite widespread poverty in this island nation, a fledgling press has developed out of the destruction that followed the territory's vote for independence from Indonesia in 1999. Since May 2002, East Timor has been sovereign, with only a small U.N. presence remaining until 2004 to provide defense and security assistance.
A decades-long struggle for independence ended on May 20, when the U.N. Transitional Authority for East Timor (UNTAET) formally handed power to East Timor's first elected government, making the tiny half-island state the first new nation of the millennium. A fledgling press has emerged from the destruction that followed the territory's vote for independence from Indonesia in 1999, and now the country has two daily newspapers, a handful of weeklies, and seven small private radio stations. Indonesia, which annexed East Timor in 1975 following the collapse of Portuguese colonial rule, did not tolerate an independent press.
Separatist rebellions, a deteriorating economy, and political intrigue combined to keep Indonesia on edge for much of 2002. But despite the many challenges and tensions facing the country, the press remained substantially free and hung on to most gains made since 1998, when decades of dictatorship ended with the ouster of then president Suharto.

New York, November 7, 2002—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) welcomes yesterday's indictment in East Timor of two suspected murderers of Dutch journalist Sander Thoenes, who was killed in Dili on September 21, 1999, while he was reporting for The Financial Times and The Christian Science Monitor. Arrest warrants for both men, who are Indonesian military officers, are expected to be forwarded to the attorney general of Indonesia and to Interpol, which East Timor joined in October.

June 18, 2002

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

Your Excellency:
East Timor's media faced their first real test under a democratic environment when they covered September's United Nations-supervised poll electing a constituent assembly and a transitional government. The press performed admirably, with few cases of political harassment and most Timorese journalists attempting to be fair and balanced in their reporting.
Another year of political turmoil saw the Indonesian press clinging to its hard-won freedoms. But President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who took over from the quixotic Abdurrahman Wahid in July, is showing worrying signs of being less friendly toward the press than her predecessor.


One of Megawati's first acts in office was to appoint a state minister for communications and information, leading to fears that her government would eventually re-establish the notorious Information Ministry, which Wahid disbanded in 1999. For decades, former dictator President Suharto used the ministry to license and sanction the media, controls that were lifted after he was forced from office in 1998.


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.

EMERGING FROM DARKNESS AND DEVASTATION, East Timor's journalists took their first steps toward building an independent press for the fledgling nation. The leaders of the new country have pledged to promote press freedom after they achieve formal independence (expected by the end of 2001). "We have no intention to interfere in any way with the press: it must be independent of government," Nobel laureate and East Timor political leader Jose Ramos Horta told CPJ in May.

Justice Delayed

The UN and the Indonesian government both think they know who killed two journalists in East Timor last year. So why aren't the suspects on trial?

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