Indonesia: As violence engulfs East Timor, journalists have been targeted by local militias that want the province to remain part of Indonesia


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Click here for CPJ’s June 1 report on press freedom in Indonesia.

Wednesday, August 25

  • Time magazine correspondent John Stanmeyer and his Indonesian assistant, Heriyanto, were attacked by members of the anti-independence Aitarak militia outside the group’s headquarters in Dili as they were taking photographs of gun-toting militia members. At approximately 11:30 a.m., the two men drove down the street where the militia has set up its main office. Seeing a group of some 50 armed men, most of whom were wearing T-shirts advocating autonomy within Indonesia, Stanmeyer began taking pictures. Militia members demanded the two journalists leave. When Stanmeyer refused, one of the Aitarak militiamen pulled a knife. Heriyanto negotiated with the man, and persuaded him not to stab anybody.

Thursday, August 26

Many journalists came under attack during violent clashes between pro-independence and pro-integration groups in Dili, in which five people were killed and dozens injured.

  • Kornelius Kewa Ama Khayam, a reporter for Kompas,Indonesia’s leading daily newspaper, was grazed by a bullet in the leg. Five other bullets were stopped by the bullet-proof vest he was wearing for protection, according to an article in the Jakarta Post.Unidentified assailants also beat Khayam and set his motorcycle ablaze. He was taken to a local hospital for treatment and later evacuated from the territory. Jaka, a reporter for Indonesia’s state-owned Antara news agency, sustained bruises when he was attacked nearby.
  • An Indonesian journalist who requested anonymity told the Japanese news agency Kyodo that she and three colleagues were threatened at gunpoint by pro-Jakarta militia members when violence broke out in the neighborhood of Kuluhun, in eastern Dili. “We are now being sought for what we witnessed,” the journalist said. She and her colleagues saw a man shot in the back and neck in Kuluhun when violence erupted.
  • An estimated 150 heavily armed, anti-independence Aitarak militia members surrounded an Indonesian military truck in which five journalists, including Marianne Kearney, a reporter with the Canberra Times,had sought refuge. Militia members surrounded the vehicle, chanting, “Kill them all, kill all Australian journalists.” An eyewitness said that the militia members also attempted to stab a Norwegian journalist, Torgeir Norling, who was outside the truck but managed to escape after Indonesian police intervened to protect him. Australian journalists were a particular focus of militia anger during the campaign.
  • Militia members also shot at camera crews—two Australians and one from New Zealand—who were trying to film the attack. They were not injured. One of the cameramen, Chris Jones of New Zealand television, told National Public Radio: “All of a sudden they just opened up with guns and threw rocks and just chased us back all the way through the compound and back to the hotel, really, where they just pelted the roof with rocks and it was just intense. It was just intense.”
  • A reporter with the Irish Times,Tjitske Lingsma, was kicked in the ribs and threatened with a hand grenade after witnessing the execution-style shooting of an unarmed man on the street by a policeman.
  • Following a large pro-Jakarta rally, scores of young men left a motorcade and stormed through two villages near Dili. One of the militiamen shot at a group of journalists, hitting Bea Wiharta, an Indonesian photographer working for the Reuters news agency, in the thigh. A photographer for the Sydney Morning Heraldwas beaten during the same incident.
  • 30 journalists were forced to move out of the Hotel Dili after militiamen ran through the building, waving guns and machetes on their way to attack the nearby offices of the National Council for Timorese Resistance (CNRT), the main pro-independence organization in East Timor. Richard Langston, a New Zealand cameraman, was in the courtyard of the hotel when he heard a volley of shots and went to get his camera from his room. Within seconds, swarms of armed men were coming over the hotel’s back fence, shooting with rifles and other firearms. “One had a shotgun. He was just walking around looking to shoot,” Langston told the Sydney Morning Herald.“We panicked. We didn’t know what to do. We ran into the hotel, barricaded the door and lay on the floor as they fired shots at random into the building. One bloke was at the door with a machete trying to get in.”
  • Associated Press photographer David Longstreath and Associated Press Television News cameraman David Copeland were assaulted by pro-Jakarta militants near a sports stadium where a rally was being held. Neither was injured, though their camera gear was damaged.

Friday, August 27

  • As hundreds of anti-independence militiamen laid siege to the town of Memo, in the western part of East Timor, militia members armed with homemade guns and knives blocked access to journalists and threatened a liaison officer from the United Nations Mission in East Timor (UNAMET).

Saturday, August 28

  • Members of the anti-independence Aitarak militia attacked and shot at a group of journalists filming a militia gathering near the Dili Hotel. The gathering took place in the aftermath of a militia attack on the offices of the pro-independence CNRT. The journalists subsequently ran back to the hotel and barricaded themselves inside for protection. The owner of the Dili Hotel received threatening phone calls later that day telling him that his hotel was now a target of the militias. In the aftermath of the attack, the Australian government issued a statement concluding that journalists were particularly at risk. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that journalists are a particular target and they have to be especially careful,” said Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

Monday, August 30

  • Panca, an Indonesian reporter for East Timor’s local radio station Lorosae Radio, had his house burned down in apparent retaliation for the station’s airing of reports regarding violence during the campaign period. On August 28, Panca attended a press conference in Dili held by KIPER (Independent Committee for Direct Ballot Monitoring), to release the group’s findings on campaign abuses. His station aired tape of the press conference several times over the next two days.

    Afterward, the reporter began receiving threatening telephone calls that he believed were related to the station’s news coverage. At about 1:00 a.m. on August 30, an unidentified man asked Panca’s neighbors to confirm the location of the journalist’s house, which they did. Two hours later, the house caught fire and the family’s belongings were destroyed. Panca and his family escaped the blaze without injury.

Tuesday, September 1

  • In violence outside the United Nations headquarters in Dili, several journalists were assaulted, including BBC reporter Jonathan Head. Head was nearly killed when he fell trying to flee the violence, and a militia member first kicked him in the skull, and then hit him twice with his rifle butt. The Associated Press reported Head was also “attacked by one man who threw a large rock at him and pulled a knife on him.” Head was luckily escorted to safety, according to a Press Association News report, but he noted that though “the military are very well-armed . . . they just stood by and did nothing while this mayhem was erupting.”

    A taxi carrying journalists to the UN compound was also reportedly fired on by militiamen, and had its back windows smashed in.

    According to CNN, a number of journalists were forced to take refuge at UN headquarters when they became targets in fighting between pro-independence and pro-integration groups. Maria Ressa, who was reporting for CNN from Dili, said a soldier stationed at a nearby military barracks shut the gates to the compound, warning “No photos, or I will beat you.” Attackers dispersed only when riot police were dispatched to the scene, an hour after the melee began. The journalists who had taken shelter in the UN compound were eventually evacuated by police, in cooperation with UNAMET.

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