Killers of Indonesian journalist convicted of “crimes against humanity”

New York, December 12, 2001—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) welcomes yesterday’s announcement that the killers of journalist Agus Muliawan were among those convicted of “crimes against humanity” in connection with the violence that surrounded East Timor’s August 1999 vote for independence from Indonesia.

The Special Panel for Serious Crimes of the District Court in the East Timor capital, Dili, issued the verdicts on December 11. This landmark case marks the first successful prosecution for crimes against humanity in East Timor.

Muliawan, a Balinese reporter for the Tokyo-based news agency Asia Press International, was murdered in East Timor on September 25, 1999, while filming a documentary about the pro-independence guerrilla group Falintil. He was traveling with a group of nuns, priests, and aid workers when their bus was ambushed by members of the Team Alpha militia at a roadblock near Los Palos.

The District Court convicted 10 Team Alpha members of a range of crimes, including the murders of Muliawan and the church workers. The three-judge panel, set up by the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor (UNTAET), classified the massacre as one of several crimes against humanity committed by members of Team Alpha, an anti-independence militia backed by the Indonesian military.

“The conviction of Agus Muliawan’s killers is reassuring,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “CPJ hopes that this case will serve as a model for other justice efforts in East Timor, including the struggle to prosecute those responsible for the murder of Dutch journalist Sander Thoenes.”

Thoenes, a free-lance reporter who worked for the Financial Times, The Christian Science Monitor, and other publications, was killed just days before Muliawan while reporting in the Dili suburb of Becora. Investigators have found substantial evidence that Thoenes was shot by soldiers from the Indonesian Army’s Battalion 745. Despite international pressure and repeated Indonesian government promises, his killers have not been prosecuted.

Muliawan and Thoenes were among more than 1,000 victims, according to U.N. estimates, of lethal violence that erupted after East Timor’s August 30, 1999, vote for independence from Indonesia. As anti-independence militias went on the rampage with support from the Indonesian military, journalists covering the historic vote were targeted.

In announcing the verdict yesterday, Judge Marcello da Costa said that the court had established beyond doubt that attacks in East Timor in 1999 were committed in a widespread and systematic way by “armed groups supported by the Indonesian authorities targeting the civilian population.” This finding was, according to UNTAET, necessary to classify the murders and other human rights abuses as “crimes against humanity.”

Altogether, seven militia members were found guilty of murdering Muliawan and his companions. Those convicted were Joni Marques, Manuel da Costa, João da Costa, Paulo da Costa, Amélio da Costa, Hilário da Silva, and Gonsalo dos Santos. Marques, the leader of Team Alpha, was convicted of additional crimes and sentenced to a total of 33 years and four months in prison—the maximum penalty under Indonesian law.

In its verdict, the court noted that Muliawan and his companions “were killed by the use of shots, stabbings, burning, and blasts. The brutal killings are a cruel portrait of the actions carried out by militia groups in East Timor during 1999.”