Subject: Ramos Horta may pardon some prisoners

Ramos Horta may pardon some prisoners

June 15, 2007 - 1:40PM

East Timor's President Jose Ramos Horta says he is preparing to pardon or reduce the sentences of an unspecified number of prisoners jailed in the tiny nation.

But he is yet to decide the fate of a controversial new law which could lead to amnesties for thousands of other offenders who committed crimes in the past year.

East Timor's parliament last week quietly passed the law, which offers clemency for a swag of crimes.

They include "larceny and "trickery", crimes against state security, firearms offences, theft or property damage under $10,000, and traffic offences committed between April 20, 2006 and April 30 this year.

Dr Ramos Horta has 30 days in which to sign off on the bill, or refer it to the Court of Appeal for a decision on its constitutionality.

"I'm not in a hurry," he told AAP.

"If I have any doubt about its constitutionality I will send it to the Court of Appeal before I make a decision.

"I haven't had a chance to study it and I'm awaiting legal opinion from my legal advisers and awaiting opinion from the church.

"I do not support amnesty for serious crimes or crimes against humanity, this would be inconsistent with the international law.

"But I have in my own presidential prerogative, (the power to) ... pardon individuals who have already served a number of years in prison and who have shown good behaviour, and I intend to do so in the next few days."

Ramos Horta said he would chose candidates for either pardons or sentence reductions from a list supplied by the Justice Minister and the prison system.

But he said the pardons were quite "separate" from the new amnesty law.

East Timor's government has said the law will help the country move forward from last year's crisis of violence, with prosecutors grappling with thousands of cases in the fledgling country's justice system and prisons "bursting at the seams".

Ramos Horta said the idea was legitimate, "as long as we don't make a mockery of justice by releasing anyone and everyone just because we have a backlog (of cases)".

But analysts fear the law could spark new tensions in the nation, particularly if jailed former government minister Rogerio Lobato is among those to be released.

In a new report, think-tank the International Crisis Group said the new clemency law was "apparently intended especially for Rogerio Lobato," who in March was convicted of murder and distributing weapons to civilians during last year's crisis.

"According to Mudansa (Fretilin Reform group) members, Lobato agreed to take the blame for the distribution of weapons in 2006 on condition that he would be amnestied," the report says.

"If he is not, he might try to implicate (former Fretilin Prime Minister Mari) Alkatiri.

"If he is amnestied, it may have implications for attempts to prosecute others accused of involvement in the 2006 violence."

Ramos Horta disagreed.

"I do not think so, there are many other people involved in the violence in 2006 - I do not believe it was specifically created for Mr Rogerio Lobato."

Nor would he speculate about whether the law could aid the surrender of East Timor's most-wanted fugitive Alfredo Reinado, who has evaded capture by Australian troops since escaping from a Dili prison last year.

"We are very supportive of a peaceful resolution of the issue of Mr Reinado on the condition he surrender himself to justice," Ramos Horta said.

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