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Reporters Without Borders Annual Report 2002 - East Timor

Publisher Reporters Without Borders
Publication Date 3 May 2002
Cite as Reporters Without Borders, Reporters Without Borders Annual Report 2002 - East Timor, 3 May 2002, available at: [accessed 22 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The United Nations' administration of East Timor has helped promote the development of media and the respect of press freedom. A major first occurred in this country: militia members were convicted for "crimes against humanity", including the murder of a journalist.

New media were created in 2001; the country has several independent publications, community radios and a television station. Some titles have already staked out their readership: the dailies Timor Post and Lalenok, the weeklies Talitakum, Lian Maubere and Tais Timor. But there are still problems, including the choice of language. Some publications use all four languages: Tetun, Indonesian, Portuguese and English. This is a real problem that journalists and authorities have not yet resolved. Some journalists protested when, in December, a cooperation agreement was signed with Portugal, a former colonial power, to develop radio and television. It stipulates that these media will be broadcast in Portuguese, a language spoken only by the elderly and the political elite.

The media, especially the radio station controlled by the United Nations transitional administration (UNTAET), played an important role in organising the country's first general elections in August 2001. No infringements of press freedom were noted during the election, which was won hands down by Fretilin, the party who fought for the island's independence.

A visit to East Timor by a Reporters without Borders representative in 2001 allowed us to obtain information on the situation of Bernardino Guterres, a Timorese journalist killed on 26 August 1999 during the crackdown that followed the referendum for independence. According to Otelio Ote, a former journalist with Suara Timor Timur, this editorialist with the weekly Vox Populi was known for his articles critical of the Indonesian occupation. He is thought to have been killed by an Indonesian police officer.

In early January, the inaugural congress of the Timor Lorosae Journalists' Association (TLJA) was held in Dili, with 150 delegates from the island's fourteen media present. On 6 August, the TLJA adopted a code of conduct for journalists covering the electoral campaign, with a goal of preventing any bias in the coverage of this event. According to Virgilio Guterres, president of the TLJA, this code can also be used as a reference document for any complaints about election coverage.

On 3 February, United Nations police investigators issued international arrest warrants against three men, including a former minister of the Indonesian government, Yunus Yosfiah, for the murder of five Australian journalists in East Timor in 1975: Greg Shackleton, Tony Stewart and Gary Cunningham, of the television channel Channel 7, and Brian Peters and Malcom Rennie, of Channel 9. After a seven-month enquiry, investigators concluded that the former minister, who was captain of the country's special forces at the time, could be indicted for "war crimes". Two days later, Yunus Yosfiah told the press that he was ready to appear in front of any tribunal to "clear his name". But several days later, the Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs specified that, "Even if it is proven that Yunus Yosfiah was guilty, we will not allow him to be tried outside of the country."

On 11 December, ten members of a pro-Indonesian militia, known as "Team Alpha", were sentenced to jail terms of up to thirty-three years for "crimes against humanity" by a special court set up by the United Nations in Dili. Among the charges they were found guilty of was the murder of Agus Mulyawan, an Indonesian journalist working for the Japanese agency Asia Press, killed on 25 September 1999.

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