CPJ Welcomes UN Investigation into 1975 Murders of Five Journalists in East Timor

New York, September 15, 2000–The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) welcomes today’s announcement that the United Nations is investigating the October, 1975 murders of five Australia-based journalists in East Timor. [Go to map of region]

CPJ urges UN authorities to expand the investigation to include the murder of Australian free-lance journalist Roger East, said to have been the only remaining foreign correspondent in East Timor at the time of the Indonesian military invasion. East reportedly was executed on December 8, 1975, but little public attention has been paid to his case.

Reporter Greg Shackleton, 27, sound engineer Tony Stewart, 21, and cameraman Gary Cunningham, 27, all with Australia’s Channel 7, along with reporter Malcolm Rennie, 28, and cameraman Brian Peters, 29, both of Channel 9, were murdered on October 16, 1975. Indonesia claimed the journalists were caught in the crossfire between rival East Timorese factions, but eyewitnesses have since told reporters and investigators that Indonesian soldiers summarily executed the five journalists in Balibo, East Timor, so that news of the military incursion would not reach the outside world.

“The families of these journalists have been waiting for justice for almost 25 years,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Now that the United Nations is actively pursuing this case, there is renewed hope that those who committed these terrible crimes will be prosecuted.”

The investigation is being carried out by a multinational team of United Nations civilian police, according to today’s briefing by the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET), and actually began three months ago. “More than half the work of collecting information has been done,” UN deputy spokesman Manuel de Silva told CPJ, adding, however, that it may take several more months before the investigation is completed.

News of the UN investigation follows the Australian government’s release earlier this week of nearly 900 pages of previously classified documents, some of which pertain directly to the attack on Balibo. “The Department of Foreign Affairs had no information beforehand of any intentions to kill the journalists, although it did have prior knowledge of the planned invasion,” Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer told reporters.

The five journalists had gone to Balibo to investigate reports that Indonesian troops were active in the former Portuguese colony. On December 7, seven weeks after they were killed, Indonesia launched a full-scale invasion of East Timor.