Subject: Balibo widow says its another lie

4 Tempo Magazine reports:

- Balibo: The Film and the Reality

- Interview/Ex-Kopassus Officer Gatot Purwanto: It was a difficult situation

- Editorial: Balibo 1975

- Balibo’s No Show [The Indonesian Film Censorship Board banned the screening of the film Balibo at the 11th Jakarta International Film Festival, reasoning that the film might reopen old wounds.]


Tempo Magazine No. 15/X December 08-14, 2009

Cover Story

Balibo: The Film and the Reality

The ban on screening Balibo recalls the 1975 deaths of five foreign journalists in East Timor. One witness of this incident, a former intelligence officer, believes the element of dramatization is inevitable, resulting in a fictional film featuring images of a brutal military.

FEW people recognized the small, 62-year-old man wearing a faded blue T-shirt over black denims, his face lined with the beginnings of wrinkles, his thinning hair turning grey. He sat relaxed with his legs stretched out in a corner of the Utan Kayu theater in East Jakarta, on Thursday a week ago, waiting for the screening of the film Balibo, which tells the story of five Australian journalists killed in East Timor in October 1975.

The man is Colonel (ret) Gatot Purwanto, a former army intelligence officer, who served quite some time in East Timor (now Timor Leste). His last position was Assistant Intelligence Officer of Command Operations in East Timor. He was discharged following the Santa Cruz incident in Dili, which erupted in November 1991. That evening, he toldTempo that his colleagues had warned him about watching Balibo. “Why should a witness watch a film about something he personally experienced?” they taunted him.

In fact, Gatot was at Balibo 34 years ago. Under the code name Team Susi, he and dozens of Indonesian troops crossed the East Timor border in preparation of Indonesia’s invasion into the former Portuguese colony. “I was a first lieutenant at the time, just three years out of officer training school,” he recalled. The team commander was Major-General (ret) Yunus Yosfiah. “We were assisting partisans of UDT and Apodeti,” he said. UDT and Apodeti were two political parties in Timor who at the time were pro-Indonesia. About 100 pro-integration militia members had joined them.

When the film began, Gatot quickly recognized locations used as settings for the film. “That building used to be the Finance Department” he said of the opening scene. Gatot, who is fluent in Tetum, could understand the dialog in this local Timorese language. He immediately began shaking his head when the film depicted a scene about Fretilin ideology, the leftist party fighting for an independent Timor. “They were communists,” he said with certainty. In the scene, where the lead actor is shot in the forest by an Indonesian helicopter, Gatot also shook his head murmuring, “That’s not true.”

But, when the film moved into the main scene with the killing of the five Australian journalists, Gatot stared with his mouth open. He sat motionless with his eyes glued to the screen. When the scene changed to the story of what followed the shooting, he sat looking surprised and speechless for a long time. Only when Tempo asked him if his memories of the time were similar to the way the incident was portrayed in the film, Gatot turned and replied, “No, no, it wasn’t like that.” He took in a deep breath, whispering softly, “Not exactly like that.”

* * *

IT is a pity that Gatot Purwanto and Greg Shackleton never met, considering they have more in common than the first letters of their first names. They were both 27 years old in 1975, when their fates led them both to Balibo.

Balibo is a small town in Bobonaro district. The distance to the border with West Timor is only about 10 kilometers. The remains of a 400-year-old Portuguese fort still stand on a hill facing the beach. Gatot admits that his forces captured and shot Shackleton and his four colleagues: sound man Australian Tony Stewart, 21, Gary Cunningham, 27, from New Zealand from Channel 7, British nationals Brian Peters, 29 and Malcolm Rennie, 28, from Channel 9.

The film Balibo, according to Gatot is overdramatized. Even though he later admitted that the troops did try to hide the bodies of these journalists by covering them up with dry rice husks so they would burn slowly. “Until the bodies were completely destroyed; it took two days,” he explained.

Balibo shows the political escalation heating up near the time of the invasion and the moments of the five journalists’ deaths. The director and scriptwriter is the Australian cinematographer, Robert Connolly. Originally the film was to be shown at the Jakarta International Film Festival last week. But the Film Censorship Board (LSF) banned it. The reason given by Mukhlis Paeni, Director of LSF, was that, “it has the potential to open an old wound.”

That “old wound” did not come from the south. The Balibo incident had been diplomatically bandied back and forth, between Jakarta and Canberra. Yet, the two countries have come to an agreement. The Australian government accepts the version of the Indonesian government stating that the five men died in cross-fire. “This film does not express the opinion of the Australian government,” said Jenny Dee, press attaché for the Australian embassy in Jakarta.

Those who disagree with the Indonesian government’s version are the families and friends of the slain journalists, and human rights activists in Australia, who are demanding justice. They believe the five journalists were executed by the Indonesian Military (TNI), like Roger East, another Australian journalist who was lost and presumed to be shot dead on the first day of the invasion of Dili harbor on December 7, 1975. They want the perpetrators brought to court. For 34 years this case had surfaced and resurfaced in Australian politics. Those concerned about human rights kept charging that both the Labor Party as well as the Conservative Party supported the invasion—as did the United States and the United Kingdom—to prevent the spread of communism.

The “old wound” Muklis may be referring to could be the public at home. Many scenes in the film bring back memories of human rights abuses carried out by the military in the not-so-distant past. The familiar icons are disturbing: red berets, camouflage uniforms, AK-47s, as well as the actors playing the roles of familiar military figures like Benny Moerdani and Colonel Dading Kalbuadi (both of whom have died). What is frightening is the action depicted in the film: groups of civilians being shot at, public executions, and the faces of women and children crying in fear.

* * *

THE LSF invited Sutiyoso to view Balibo, two days after the ban, when they had difficulty contacting Yunus. The former Governor of Jakarta, Sutiyoso, was a Special Forces soldier in the same operation as Gatot. According to Sutiyoso, the intelligence operation called Flamboyan was aimed at assisting the pro-integration militia to clear the area of “enemies,” or the Fretilin militia. “This was like entering a lion’s den, a one-way ticket operation. We didn’t even get to say goodbye to our families,” he told Tempo, one Saturday morning.

To support the operation, the forces formed three teams, each with about 50 Special Forces troops. The 1965 Group led the operation, the second in command came from the 1968 group. The three teams were given women’s names: Susi, Tuti, and Umi. Sutiyoso confirmed that Yunus Yosfiah, a major at the time, led Team Susi. His second in command was Sunarto. Team Tuti was led by Major Tarub with Agus Salim Lubis as his second in command. Sunarto and Agus Salim have both passed away. Team Umi was led by Major Sofyan Effendi with Sutiyoso as his second in command. “Gatot was in Team Susi,” he recalled.

With the command center in Motaain, they went back and forth to the border areas. They all wore civilian clothing, their hair long, with tight shirts in the style of the time over wide-legged or denim pants. Dading, the leader of the operation (in the film he is seen as the first one to pull the trigger in the shooting that killed the journalists), is shown wearing a scarf around his neck and a cowboy hat. Everyone had a code name. “My name was Captain Manix, like in the film,” laughed Sutiyoso.

Team Umi then seized Batugade in a shootout with a Fretilin ship. But unlike usual procedures, the commander, Major-General Benny Moerdani told them to remain in the beach town about 40 kilometers from Motaain. “This was strange. It was unusual for the intelligence forces to do this. Our specialty was hit and run,” he said, “It was difficult for us to hold the area, because we were armed only with assault weapons. A month later, he heard that Team Susi had moved to Balibo and Team Tuti to Maliana.

“The shooting of the journalists occurred when Team Susi arrived,” says Sutiyoso. At that time, communication was not easy, but members of the same team visited each other. So everyone there heard the news of the five journalists’ death. “In that battle, no one knew anyone, whether they were foreigners or Javanese. It was only kill or be killed,” he said.

From his side, the director of Balibo, Roger Connolly, used the services of historian, Dr Clinton Fernandez from the Australian Military Academy at the University of New South Wales to give guidance on the historical context, as well as from a pile of documents from East Timor, Australia, England, the US and even Portugal (none from Indonesia). Fernandez concluded that “the Indonesian Military were involved in efforts to terrorize and destabilize which were later blamed on pro-independence groups. After that, they just had to come in to maintain order,” he said on the official site for the film Balibo.

The sources that Connolly used to describe the moments of the siege and capture of Balibo come from the prosecutor’s investigation of the court in New South Wales in February 2007. Downloadable from the Internet, there are more than half a dozen witnesses describing what they saw in detail, including the role Yunus played in the fate of the five journalists. Yunus, when contacted by Tempo, was not willing to update his previous statements. Through a text message from his son’s cellphone he replied, asking what would happen if a national leader were to be tyrannized by another nation. “If the question is the same, Pak Yunus’ answer is still the same.” This former Information Minister (1999) has repeatedly said that he was not involved in the killings.

According to that report, only one or two of the Fretilin militia were killed in the shootout at Balibo, the same number as the victims of the pro-integration side. What caused a lot of talk from the day of the incident were the deaths of the journalists, the main theme of the Balibo film.

This testimony is very different from what was recorded by TVRI journalist, Hendro Subroto, who arrived at the scene a few hours after the incident. According to Hendro in his book, Eyewitness to the Integration of East Timor, 17 people died in the battle of Balibo. The burnt corpses of 15 of them were found at the Fretilin headquarters, which was bombed by mortar fire. “Four of the 15 were foreigners. Two more bodies were found in the forest, one of whom was a foreigner,” he wrote, based on a joint report by the pro-integration militia. Interestingly, the witness who said there were 17 victims is the same witness who testified in the Australian court. But he admitted to lying and giving a false statement, which he later withdrew.

Then there is the fictional “aspect” of the film. Admittedly, Balibo does contain a few fabrications. Let us not forget that Balibo is not a documentary. The film is not free of fictional scenes. It includes many imaginary figures and incidents, such as the character of Juliana, taken from the testimonies of East Timorese about human rights abuses on the first day of the invasion. There is also the matter of the fight between Roger East and Ramos Horta at a swimming pool which never took place.

However, the LSF had no problem over the details of whether this film was close to reality or not. What is important, said the director of the Evaluation and Socialization Commission, Djamalul Abidin, is that the LSF has the mandate to apply censorship on political or ideological grounds. In other words, it is not necessary to cut the sadistic parts, but in the name of politics and ideology, the entire film can be thrown out. Take Sutiyoso, who firmly disapproves of screening this film because it degrades the TNI. “The TNI is not like that. TNI follows the principles of Pancasila,” he said.

The question is when: In the film or in reality?

-- Kurie Suditomo, Wahyu Dhyatmika, Nieke Indrietta, Martha Warta Silaban, Sutarto, Suryani Ika Sari (Jakarta)


Tempo Magazine No. 15/X December 08-14, 2009

Cover Story

Interview/Ex-Kopassus Officer Gatot Purwanto: It was a difficult situation

THE Timor Leste (formerly East Timor) story and that of Col. (ret) Gatot Purwanto, 62, are intertwined. This former Special Forces (Kopassus) officer can be said to have witnessed all of the bloody incidents that happened in Indonesia’s former 27th province. In fact, Gatot was involved in East Timor since the beginning of his military career. Tragically, it was also there that his vocation ended.

Just before Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor in 1975, Gatot would go in and out of this former Portuguese colony, disguised as a trader. His good looks, neat appearance and sociable manner made it easy for him to move around. “I was known as Aseng over there,” he said laughingly, recalling how people often mistook him for an ethnic Chinese.

Inside Timor, his job was to contact local opposition politicians and gather intelligence. He was the only Indonesian officer who was able to penetrate the Fretilin hideout in the jungle, and speak directly to their rebel chief, Xanana Gusmao.

However, the November 12, 1991 Santa Cruz incident ended his bright career. As the assistant commander for intelligence in East Timor, he was responsible for failing to anticipate the demonstration that became violent. The Indonesian Military (TNI) was accused of shooting at the people, killing more than 100. Gatot was discharged from the military.

One bloody incident he remembers well is the attack at Balibo. Gatot, who was then a first lieutenant, witnessed how five Australia-based journalists from Channel 7 and Channel 9—Greg Shackleton, Tony Stewart, Gary Cunningham, Brian Peters and Malcolm Rennie—were captured and shot.

The five journalists were in the midst of covering the joint attack by the UDT and Apodeti groups—two rival groups of the Fretilin at the time—into Balibo in October 1975, supported by the Indonesian Army. “It seems to have been my fate to be involved in bloody incidents in East Timor,” lamented Gatot.

Last week, following the screening of the film Balibo, produced by Robert Connolly, at the Utan Kayu Theater in East Jakarta, Gatot described his version of the incident depicted in the controversial film to Tempo reporters Arif Zulkifli, Wahyu Dyatmika, Sunudyantoro, Yophiandi and Agus Supriyanto. Excerpts:

You were in Balibo when the five journalists were shot. What happened?

The battle was not over at the time. The fighting had eased, but shots could still be heard. At the edge of Balibo town, near the church on the hill, there were buildings. We shot in that direction because we heard shots coming from there. When we approached the buildings, we saw the five journalists inside. They were captured and they were still alive.

So what did the troops do?

I was still on lower ground, near Pak Yunus (retired Maj. Gen. Yunus Yosfiah, who at the time was the team commander with the rank of captain—Ed.). We received a report that foreigners had been caught. Pak Yunus ordered me to report them to Pak Dading (retired Lt. Gen. Dading Kalbuadi, at the time the commander—Ed.), who was at the border area. If I am not mistaken, Pak Dading then contacted Jakarta, and asked what they should do with those people.

So, it is not true that the five journalists were killed in the crossfire between the TNI and the Fretilin?

When they were first captured, they were still alive. We surrounded them with our weapons. I saw this at a distance of 30 meters from the lower ground of the hill. They were inside and they seemed to be filming from the top. There were shots coming from that direction from time to time, which is why we aimed there and surrounded the building.

What happened then?

It was a difficult situation. If we captured them, the Indonesian troops would be implicated. We didn’t know what to do with them, execute them or what. At that very moment, when our troops were sitting around, suddenly shots came from the direction of where the journalists were. Maybe someone was trying to rescue them, we thought. Our troops ran over there, to find all five of them dead.

Exactly when did the attack happen?

We entered Balibo just before dawn. But when the incident took place, it was already daylight, maybe about 10 or 11 in the morning.

When the shooting took place, what were the orders from Yunus Yosfiah or Dading Kalbuadi?

Nothing yet. From the team leader, Pak Yunus, there were no orders to kill them or whatever. Pak Dading was still waiting for instructions from Jakarta. Communications took a long time. So, the shots happened when we were provoked into shooting at the place where they were hiding, because shots came from there.

Was there an effort to identify the five journalists? Were they asked who they were?

No, because none of them spoke Indonesian and none of the troops spoke English.

But did the troops know they were journalists?

We should have known, because they were carrying cameras and other equipment. That should have been obvious from those close to them. The shooting happened from a distance of about 15 meters.

Before the troops entered Balibo, did they know there were five foreign journalists inside the town?

We didn’t know. That’s why we were shocked and confused when they were captured. We didn’t know what to do with them.

So, what happened after the shooting?

Pak Dading went to the site. A TVRI reporter, Hendro Subroto, came along. Then Pak Dading spoke with my commander, Pak Yunus.

What was the condition of the troops at the time? Were any of the troops blamed for acting without orders?

It was a difficult situation for us. If we kept the journalists, not execute them, when they got out, they would say, “Yes, that’s right, the Indonesians captured us.” It could be used as evidence that we were there. So it was a difficult decision to make. Perhaps, at that time, people at the top thought the shooting was the best way out. I am not sure. If they were not executed, they could be witnesses to the fact that the Indonesian Army had invaded Timor.

So, the shooting was a rational decision?

Yes…but it was provoked by the shooting coming from where they were. Later, they found a Thompson gun inside the building, next to them (the five journalists).

What happened after that?

The bodies of the five journalists were taken to the house of a Chinese in Balibo, about 300 meters from the location of the shooting, just inside the town. There, the bodies were covered with rice husks and then burnt.

Why use the rice husks?

Because they take a longer time. They (the bodies) needed to be totally disintegrated. That took two days. Some wood was also used.

Why were the bodies torched? Wouldn’t that have shown that the troops tried to cover the shooting?

Because we were in a bind at the time. We had to make sure that the involvement of Indonesian troops was not known. That’s why we didn’t wear uniforms when we attacked, we wore civilian clothes. You may have heard of the blue jeans brigade. That was us with long hair.

Who ordered the bodies to be burnt?

Well, there were orders from… (unclear response). I don’t know exactly, I was just a young officer then. But we were in a difficult position. If we let them live, they would tell everyone it was an Indonesian invasion. If they died and we abandoned them, there would be evidence that they were shot in territory controlled by Indonesian guerrillas. So, the simple way was to eliminate everything. We just claimed not to know anything. It was the instant reaction at the time.

Besides the TNI, who else was in Balibo at the time?

Besides the Susi Team (advance team), the pro-Indonesian forces of Apodeti and UDT jointly took part in Balibo. There were Apodeti leader Thomas Gonzalves and UDT leader Joan Tabarez. There was one unit of our troops against two of theirs. We were 50, they were about 100.

During the invasion, was there support from Indonesian battleships?

I think there was. When we entered Balibo, there were shots from our ships offshore.

Why was Balibo the first target of attack?

Balibo was not the first one. We had advanced quite deeply at that point, but we were forced to withdraw, running back to Haikesak (a small village at the Indonesian border), and to Atambua. After reinforcements came from UDT and Apodeti, we entered again. The troops had been mobilized and trained since the end of 1974. At the point, we should have reached Dili, preparing a dropping zone and other facilities to support the big invasion, like setting up ammunition dumps in specific areas.

What was the situation in Balibo when you entered it?

Balibo is a small town, with non-descript buildings. There were five concrete buildings, the biggest owned by a Chinese and another served as a health center. In areas bordering with Indonesia, like in Balibo and nearby villages, the population tended to be supporters of the Apodeti, and more pro-Indonesian. This was quite different from people on the eastern side, which could not be accessed by our troops and which were controlled by Fretilin.

When you were assigned in East Timor, you reportedly had close relations with Xanana Gusmao?

I befriended Xanana after the operation carried out during the time of Pak Sahala (retired Lt. Gen. Adolf Sahala Rajagukguk, former Army Deputy Chief of Staff—Ed.) in 1981. After that operation, the TNI was sure that Fretelin was in disarray, falling apart. Finally, all Kopassus troops were withdrawn from Timor, with only two companies—Nanggala 51 and 52—remaining.

After the troops were withdrawn, they consolidated and attacked us again. I started thinking, if we keep ourselves low all the time, how can we advance? I finally opened communications with Xanana. He welcomed it. Maybe Xanana thought some good could come from it because at that time he was already thinking that post-war, he could be in politics. That was sometime between 1982 and 1983.

What did Xanana say?

He was very formal at first. We spoke in Tetum. He always stressed to me: Indonesia will not be able to continue funding the war in Timor.

Did your good relations continue?

Yes, we have kept in close touch until today. Since the jungle days, I have been the only Kopassus officer who is able to meet with him. So today, if Timor needs intelligence equipment, I help out. Once, Xanana even asked my help to ‘sterilize’ his office [from wiretaps].

Going back to the Balibo film. What is your impression of it?

From the start until the middle [of the film], it’s quite balanced. The film also blamed the governments of Australia, the United States and Britain, which gave their blessings to the Timor war. But the main incidents, surrounding the shooting of the five journalists, were over-dramatized. No one was tortured. The scene depicting the TNI’s entry into Dili was not that spectacular.

What do you think of demands to expose and try the Balibo perpetrators in court?

A lot of time has passed, right? The perpetrators are now old men. We no longer have a problem with Timor Leste.

Were you against the referendum in Timor Leste?

I thought it was a hurried decision.

Do you think the integration of East Timor between 1975-1999 was a wasted effort?

Look. At the time, the communists had gained control in Portugal. All areas under their control, including colonies they thought of letting go, were also influenced by communism. So it was not wrong for Australia and the US to push Indonesia into taking over. It was the Cold War at that time.

But Indonesia failed to win the people’s hearts over there.

At that time, East Timor was seen as a dumping ground for errant bureaucrats. In Timor, without supervision, those petty bureau chiefs became small kings. They were nepotistic about recruitment, refusing to hire local people, opting instead to give jobs to relatives from Java.


Tempo Magazine No. 15/X December 08-14, 2009


Balibo 1975

There is not a single reason why the Film Censorship Board should ban the screening of Balibo at the current Jakarta International Film Festival. Whether the board realizes it or not, either on its own initiative or at the behest of a third party, the board seems to be engaged in a show of strength. This is not only an unhealthy development for our movie industry, but also for our democracy. The Film Censorship Board believes that moviegoers are incapable of independent thought, and need to be regulated and protected, from confusion or the influence of foreign elements.

The Film Censorship Board specifically views the scene showing the killing of five foreign journalists during the turmoil at Balibo, in the early stages of Indonesia’s invasion of Timor Leste (formerly East Timor), as sadistic. The movie by Australian director Robert Connolly tells the story of the 1975 incident based on an investigation by Roger East, a journalist who went to Timor Leste at the invitation of Jose Ramos Horta (now President of Timor Leste). The Film Censorship Board says the film’s plot is not based on historical facts and that this inaccuracy is irresponsible.

But historical facts depend on the person investigating them, and the outcome of such investigations do not always tell the whole truth. With an incident shrouded in mystery like a ghost coming and going, as in the Balibo case, all findings must be published so their veracity can be proven. The way to test the truth is not to obstruct anyone from discussing their findings.

In deciding whether to allow controversial films to be screened or not, the Film Censorship Board should learn from the Catholic Cinematographic Center, the Vatican body that studies films from the viewpoint of their morality.

In 1948, the movie Il Miracolo (The Miracle) was released in Italy. Directed by Roberto Rossellini, an Italian pioneer of neo-realism, the film attempted to question the issue of sainthood through Nanni, a young girl. In a drunken stupor, the village girl is tempted by a vagrant whom she thinks is Saint Joseph. Nanni then becomes pregnant. She views her pregnancy as holy, but her fellow villagers scorn her. They taunt her, physically abuse her and parade her on the streets with a washbasin on her head. Nanni manages to escape to a church on top of a hill, whereupon after giving birth, she experiences spiritual ecstasy.

Issues relating to sainthood are sensitive to the Church. The Catholic Cinematographic Center condemned the film, but it did not ban it. The film was shown at the Venice Film Festival, known for its unwillingness to screen works judged by the Vatican to be religiously offensive. The official Vatican newspaper, Osservatore Romano, published an appreciative review. It said there were “serious objections from the religion’s viewpoint,” while highlighting the “undoubted fine quality of the scenes.” It concluded by saying that “we still believe in Rossellini’s works.”

Such open thinking needs to be cultivated, including in our country. This is freedom to express an opinion, which is guaranteed in our Constitution, including the right to screen films, no matter where they come from.

In some countries, films are banned for many reasons—such as those containing topics on religion and sadism or more specifically, on incest and pedophilia. But even those reasons call for cool-headed thinking. An immediate ban does not have to be the first step.

We must remember that films, whatever they may be depicting, are entertainment. People must pay to watch them. Therefore the premise should be simple: if you do not want to watch it, do not go to the theater and buy a ticket. This also applies to the Jakarta Film Festival—seats are limited and moviegoers are automatically selected. Of course, we should not forget that digital technology now makes it easy for people to find anything that is inaccessible in their daily lives. This is precisely why the censorship and the banning is so absurd.

What should be condemned is the knee-jerk reaction by the Film Censorship Board, which was supported by a number of organizations and institutions and an unfortunate sign of extreme intolerance and stupidity. It is wrong from any viewpoint. Banning is the language of those lacking in common sense.


Tempo Magazine No. 15/X December 08-14, 2009

Cover Story

Balibo’s No Show

The Indonesian Film Censorship Board banned the screening of the film Balibo at the 11th Jakarta International Film Festival, reasoning that the film might reopen old wounds.

THE work area of the Jakarta International Film Festival (JIFFest) organizers was suddenly filled with journalists. One after another journalists appeared, asking for confirmation on the ban and to request a private screening of the Australian film Balibo. “So many of them have been here,” said Vara, “I’ve lost track of how many times we’ve shown them the film,” said Vara, one of the organizers, last Wednesday night. The cellphone of Lalu Roisamri, director of JIFFest, also did not stop ringing.

The Film Censorship Board (LSF) banned the 111-minute film from being shown at the Festival. The film is about five foreign journalists who were killed as they covered the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975. In one scene, the five television journalists are being attacked by what is presumably the Indonesian Military (TNI—whose members in the film speak to each other in Indonesian) pictured rushing to avoid attacks during the fighting in Balibo.

Trapped in a house, one of the journalists forces himself to come out to try to negotiate with the leader of the troops, to let them go because he and his colleagues are just doing their jobs as journalists. Bang! His request is ignored and he receives instead a bullet through the head. A barrage of shots and torture await the remaining four journalists. Their bodies are burnt together with their journalistic equipment and film. This was October of 1975.

Three months later, the film depicts senior journalist Roger East (played by Anthony Paglia of Without a Trace) being tortured in Dili. He is tied up and dragged to a field where he is tortured and shot. Then his body is dumped into the sea. East was in Dili at that time, invited by Jose Ramos Horta (played by Oscar Isaac)—the man who would later become the second President of Timor Leste after its independence from Indonesia in 1999. East was trying to trace the movements of the five journalists and their disappearance in Balibo.

According to Muchlis Paeni, head of the LSF, the scenes in the film are extremely sadistic. “We are required to cut out such scenes because of their violence. It is not so much a political issue. Even if the film were not about the Balibo incident we would still be required to censor it,” Muchlis said in his office last Thursday afternoon. He stressed that such violent scenes should not be allowed to be shown at a film festival because they had the potential to reopen old wounds.

He acknowledged that the film directed by Robert Connolly and produced by Paramount Pictures was interesting, although he regretted that the information on which it was based was merely an oral testimony. “It is not based on historical facts whose accuracy has been proven,” he said.

Jakarta’s former governor, Sutiyoso, supports the decision of the LSF. “It is a very prejudicial film and extremely dramatic. Anyone watching it would immediately receive a very negative impression of the TNI,” he said. When the incidents took place, Sutiyoso was a captain in the Indonesian Army and participated in operations in Timor Leste. He was invited by the board last Thursday to give his opinion of the film.

According to LSF’s Evaluation & Socialization Chairman, Djamalul Abidin, the ban was in accordance with Government Regulation No. 7/1994 on the Indonesian Censorship Board, Chapter IV relating to Guidelines and Criteria for Censorship, where it states that censorship can be implemented, for amongst others, political and ideological reasons. He said that the board still refers to Law No. 8/1992 on Films because Law No. 33/2009 still lacks implementing regulations.

The LSF has in the past refused to allow the screening of JIFFest films which depict violence and what it refers to as “putting the TNI in a corner.” In 2000, the film The Army Force (an Indonesian production) about the 1998 reform movement and The Black Road (an American production) about the killing of members of the Free Aceh Movement produced by freelance journalist William Nelson who covered Aceh and was later deported, were banned. In 2006, five films were rejected by the board namely Passabe, Timor Lorosae, Tales of Crocodile, Promised Paradise and Simon.

Lalu Roisamri regrets the banning of Balibo. “We still wanted to screen the film and so a discussion was held,” said Roisamiri who explained that the parties involved had tried to act fairly about it. She put in a request to the LSF for a screening and a limited discussion inviting the TNI, the government, the Foreign Affairs Department (whose staff reportedly agreed with the ban), non-governmental institutions and media experts. However, her efforts appear to have failed.

-- Martha Warta Silaban


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