CPJ disturbed by announcement to abandon murder investigation

June 18, 2002

Her Excellency Megawati Sukarnoputri
President, Republic of Indonesia
Office of the President
Bina Graha, Jalan Veteran No. 1
Jakarta Pusat, Indonesia

Via facsimile: 62-21-778-182

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply disturbed by the announcement last week that Indonesian officials are abandoning their investigation into the murder of Sander Thoenes, a Dutch journalist who was reporting for The Financial Times and The Christian Science Monitor when he was killed in East Timor in September 1999.

Separate investigations conducted by the United Nations, Dutch authorities, and The Christian Science Monitor identified members of Indonesian army Battalion 745 as prime suspects in the murder.

On June 13, Barman Zahir, a spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, told The Associated Press that Indonesian investigators did not have enough evidence to prosecute Thoenes’ murder. “We will not be continuing the case,” Zahir said. “Later, if new evidence or suspects come up, it can be continued.”

However, Bart Jochem, a Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman, told The Christian Science Monitor that, “We know what the evidence is, and we think there is more than enough evidence to bring this case to court.”

Thoenes was one of two journalists killed in the violence that followed 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 were deliberately targeted in an apparent effort to ensure that there would be no witnesses to the atrocities.

In April 2000, Indonesia’s then-attorney general Marzuki Darusman designated Thoenes’ murder as one of five top-priority cases for a special investigations team charged with prosecuting crimes committed in East Timor. However, Thoenes’ case is not among those that have been brought before a special human rights tribunal established by Your Excellency’s government.

A diplomat representing the European Union told The Christian Science Monitor that the murder of Sander Thoenes is “probably the best documented atrocity in East Timor, and the one that most clearly demonstrates a pattern of abuse by the Indonesian military.” He added that failure to prosecute the case is, therefore, “linked to the credibility of the whole tribunal.”

United Nations officials have told Indonesian authorities that if those responsible for the violence in East Timor are not held accountable in Indonesian courts, an international war crimes tribunal could be convened.

The murderers of the other journalist killed in the post-referendum violence of September 1999 have been brought to justice. Agus Muliawan, an Indonesian journalist who was filming a documentary for the Tokyo-based news agency Asia Press International, was killed along with a group of Catholic aid workers when their bus was ambushed by members of the Team Alpha, an anti-independence militia. On December 11, 2001, the Special Panel for Serious Crimes of the Dili District Court in East Timor convicted 10 Team Alpha members of a range of crimes, including the murder of Muliawan and the church workers. The three-judge panel, set up by the United Nations Transitional Authority in East Timor, classified the massacre as one of several “crimes against humanity” committed by Team Alpha militia members. They were the first people to be convicted of “crimes against humanity” in connection with the violence in East Timor.

As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of press freedom around the world, CPJ respectfully urges Your Excellency to ensure that the murder of Sander Thoenes does not go unpunished. Your government has pledged that those responsible for human rights abuses in East Timor would be brought to justice, yet the Attorney General’s Office has apparently turned aside credible evidence gathered by international investigators indicating that Indonesian army officers were directly involved in Thoenes’ killing. Failure to prosecute Sander Thoenes’ murder raises troubling questions about your government’s commitment to press freedom and to accountability for the crimes committed in East Timor.

We thank you for your attention to this urgent matter and await your response.


Ann Cooper
Executive Director