FEBRUARY 3, 2005
Posted: March 30, 2005

Suara Timor LorosaeHARASSED

The East Timor government repeatedly harassed Suara Timor Lorosae, apparently in retaliation for the daily newspaper’s reporting on famine.

The Land and Property Department ordered the paper’s management to quit its premises, which it has occupied in the capital of Dili since 1993, within 60 days. The paper complained to the Land and Property office and to the Minister of Justice but did not receive a reply, publisher and editor-in-chief Salvador Soares told CPJ.

On February 23, Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri imposed an indefinite boycott on the paper, banning its journalists from attending official press conferences, according to international news sources. Government advertising was withdrawn, and officials were ordered to break all contact with the daily’s journalists, as well as forbidden to buy or read the paper.

The boycott seemed to result from an article quoting a local official who said that 53 people had died in a famine in Ainaro district, reported international news sources. The government denied the famine deaths, and deputy publisher and editor-in-chief Domingos Saldanha told reporters that the Prime Minister had called him on the phone to complain about the “lies.” Local relief groups have said that a food crisis has affected thousands of Timorese.

“We have the right to maintain relations with the serious and independent press but not with propagandists who have no objectivity,” said Alkatiri, quoted in Portuguese news agency Lusa.

Local journalists have protested the government’s actions and declared them a violation of constitutionally protected press freedoms.

Soares told CPJ that the newspaper is seeking funds for the construction of a new office, and has petitioned the government to be allowed to remain at its current location for a year while it finds new premises.

The harassment issues arose amid concerns among Timorese journalists that the government is seeking to further restrict the press through new proposed criminal defamation legislation.