Subject: SMH: Prisoners locked out of vote on Timor's future
Date: Sun, 01 Aug 1999 11:18:30 -0400
From: "John M. Miller" <>

Received from Joyo Indonesian News:

The Australian 28 July 99

Prisoners locked out of vote on Timor's future

East Timor's political prisoners want to have a say in the fate of their nation, writes Sian Powell in Dili .

JACINTO Alves spent seven years in prison for organising a peaceful demonstration at the funeral of a separatist sympathiser in Dili in 1991. Indonesian troops opened fire on the crowd of East Timorese, killing between 100 and 180 people in the bloodbath that became known as the Dili massacre.

Mr Alves was released from the maximum-security Semarang prison near Yogyakarta last December, but another of the demonstration's organisers, Gregorio de Cunha Saldanha, is still serving a life sentence there for his part in masterminding the protest.

Saldanha and co-accused Francisco Branco are two of at least 80 East Timorese political prisoners languishing in jail for taking part in the independence struggle.

A further dozen or so have been detained and await trial.

Unlike Saldanha and Branco, most prisoners have been convicted of acts of violence, such as throwing a grenade into a truck of Indonesian soldiers, attacking police headquarters or ambushing soldiers.

They are scattered throughout Indonesia and Yayasan Hak, a Dili-based human rights organisation, fears they have no access to detailed information on registration or the ballot.

Although Indonesian authorities have said that all prisoners, criminal and political, will be permitted to register and vote, no arrangements have been made. Indonesian officials confirmed yesterday that no prisoners would be released from jail "for obvious reasons".

A general amnesty for all political prisoners was announced by the Indonesian Government some months ago but, to date, there have been no moves in that direction.

"In theory," said Mr Alves, "East Timorese political prisoners should have been released as a sign of goodwill towards the popular consultation. But it hasn't happened."

The Indonesian Government, he added, had other agendas. "In East Timor there is a lot of land that is owned by Indonesians. That turns into an interest that has to be safe-guarded by Indonesia. The good name of the Indonesian army is also involved as an interest here."

Mr Alves said prisoners in Semarang had little contact with the outside world. Letters were censored and visitors limited to their families, who were flown to Java twice a year by the Red Cross.

But they received some information via an underground network, including morale-boosting letters from the jailed resistance leader, Xanana Gusmao.

Like many other political prisoners, Mr Alves never resiled from his support for independence. Two years ago, he was offered conditional release if he accepted integration, if he swore never to engage in rebellion and if he recognised Indonesian development in East Timor.

He refused.

When he was released from prison he returned to his wife and five children in East Timor, but he cannot play an active part in the campaign for independence, because he is on effective parole and he can be immediately re-arrested by the Indonesian Government. Nevertheless, he said, he watched the developments eagerly.

"That the Indonesians have accepted the idea of a ballot is a huge step forward," he said. "No matter what happens, I think the Indonesians have to respect the outcome."

Back to July Menu
Human Rights Violations in East Timor
Main Postings Menu
June '98 through February '99