Benny Mateus, the chief justice of Nusa Tenggara Timor Province, Timor intends to prosecute US journalist Allan Nairn for two technical violations of Indonesian immigration law, a local immigration official in Kupang, West Timor has informed Nairn. [includes rush transcript]
Nairn is to be charged with engaging in unauthorized activities and overstaying his two-month visa. Both acts are considered illegal under sections 50 and 52 of the Indonesian immigration laws. If convicted, Nairn could face ten years in prison.
Nairn, who was arrested in Dili on September 14, was one of the last journalists reporting from East Timor. Indonesian forces have transferred him to Kupang in West Timor, a part of Indonesia.
A local immigration official, Mr. Zurya, has been interrogating Nairn at the immigration facility in downtown Kupang for several days. According to Indonesian officials in Kupang, while Mateus is seeking to charge Nairn, the Minister of Justice, Dr. Muladi, and the Minister of Information, Yunus Yosfiah, is inclined to deport Nairn.
Kupang is not a safe place. The militia that have terrorized East Timor are now rampaging through the refugee camps in West Timor, where more than 100,000 East Timorese now reside after being driven from their homes. Hostility to Westerners in Kupang is soaring. It is likely that a US citizen like Allan Nairn will be in great danger if he is not deported immediately.
- Allan Nairn, from West Timor.
Indonesian troops loaded weapons, ammunition and computers onto navy ships today, departing East Timor ahead of the arrival of a multinational peacekeeping force. Ending a quarter-century of “often brutal occupation” — that’s what the Associated Press called it, “often brutal occupation” — the commander of Indonesia’s troops in East Timor was quoted by the Antara News Agency as saying the army will be withdrawn gradually within a week. That raised hopes for a conflict-free handover to the peacekeepers now assembling in Darwin, northern Australia, due to arrive in East Timor this weekend or early next week to restore order in a country where the people, the Timorese, have been terrified, killed and brutalized by the Indonesian regime. The peacekeepers’ arrival will also allow a full-scale relief effort for tens of thousands of East Timorese who’ve fled the fighting, many of whom are now starving in the rugged hill country.
Before we turn to what is happening in East Timor and, more specifically, what is happening next door in an Indonesian province in West Timor, where it is believed up to 200,000 East Timorese refugees have been forcibly deported, we’re going to turn to a story we’ve been following over the last days. Over the last weeks, we’ve been bringing you daily reports of journalist Allan Nairn, eyewitness reports on the ground in Dili, East Timor — Allan, who defied the army blacklist, because he survived the ’91 massacre in Dili, where more than 250 Timorese were killed when Indonesian troops with US weapons opened fire. As a result of Allan surviving and condemning that massacre and reporting on it in The New Yorker magazine, he was, along with me, called a threat to national security and banned from entering Indonesia and East Timor. In 1994, we were arrested again for trying to enter East Timor, but did slip in. Allan returned in 1997 and defied the army blacklist once again, revealing that the US government had gotten around a congressional ban on military training and in fact was training Kopassus elite Indonesian troops through an obscure Pentagon program. Congress expressed outrage over President Clinton’s attempt to get around the congressional ban. And just earlier this year, Allan once again defied the ban and got into Indonesia, where he has been for the last few months, and then went to East Timor, where he’s been reporting on the historic referendum that took place on August 30th, in which more than three-quarters of the population voted for independence. In these next few days, international peacekeepers will move in, beginning that second phase of implementation of independence for the people of East Timor.
We just got word, though, a few hours ago from the US embassy in Jakarta that developments in Allan Nairn’s case do not look very good. On September 14th Dili time at 5:30 in the morning, he was walking outside, picked up by Indonesian soldiers at a military checkpoint and brought to Koram. Koram is the army national command of East Timor. He was brought to the compound, where he was questioned, then brought to the police station, Polda, where he was further questioned, then brought to army headquarters, and watched as hundreds of militia made their base in the compound, as well as the Indonesian military, once again underscoring the very close relationship between the Indonesian military and the militias.
After being in East Timor in custody for a day, he was then jetted off to West Timor next door by the Indonesian military, where he was put in immigration quarantine, held in detention and has been interrogated for the last two days. Indonesian authorities said they were doing an investigation and deciding whether to simply deport him or to try him. The US embassy in Jakarta, as well as the State Department in Washington, D.C., said that it was extremely rare for an immigration case to lead to a trial. In fact, the State Department was telling reporters and Congress members and senators and anyone who called who asked, because the number of calls have been coming in by the hundreds to the State Department, that in fact Allan Nairn would be deported within days. But in the last few hours, we’ve learned that the provincial chief justice in Nusa Tenggara Timor, NTT, which is the official name of West Timor, an Indonesian province, has decided that he wants to move ahead with the prosecution of the US journalist.
I spoke to Allan just a few minutes after learning about the Indonesian official’s decision and asked him to explain exactly what is happening.
Well, I was told by the immigration chief that they are moving forward with a court case against me that he said could result in imprisonment. Right now, as we speak, the plainclothes police intel has come in, and they are meeting with the immigration chief about my case.
What are you charged with?
Well, I haven’t been formally charged, but they say there are two violations of immigration regulations. What it boils down to is being in Indonesia in occupied Timor in violation of the army ban against me.
Are you surprised by this? And what do you plan to do?
No, I’m not surprised. This is the — these are the wheels of the bureaucracy grinding. The immigration chief said they have not heard from Jakarta today, where General Wiranto is expected to ultimately make the decision. And so, in the absence of that, they go forward with implementing the regulations, and the regulations — the gist of them is that you don’t cross the awning, you don’t defy an army ban. But that is what I did.
What do you expect the process to be like from now on, I mean, in terms of a time table?
I don’t know. I got the impression that it may be a number of days before I go to court. As to when I might actually be taken into direct police custody or returned to direct army custody again or open army custody, I don’t know when that might happen.
Do you think pressure from the United States would make a difference? Or do you think it’s out of US hands?
No, I don’t think anything like this is ever out of US hands, since the US is the main patron of the Indonesian military. You know, the big issue now is will the army get out — Indonesian army get out of Timor? And can they be driven out of Indonesian politics, so the repression to other country will stop. I mean, this is a pretty small matter.
Is there a lot of tension in the room?
Well, the two police intel people who came in looked very grim and hostile. They’re in there having their meeting with the immigration chief right now. And actually, we should probably wrap this up now.
Allan Nairn, speaking from the immigration center in downtown Kupang which is the capital of West Timor, again, just a little while after getting the news that the Indonesian regime had decided to prosecute him for immigration infractions. He is being possibly tried, if they do move forward on this, as they say they will, under two subsections of the immigration code, 50 and 52. 50 involves overstaying a visa, and 52 involves engaging in unauthorized activities. He’s in Indonesia and East Timor despite an army ban.
Well, if you want to learn more about the update on his case as the days go by, he did do an expose in The Nation magazine last week, which you can go to at the web and see his documentation of the US military’s relationship with the Indonesian military and the militias, and they also have an update on the status of his case. That’s at www.thenation.com, also, of course, at our website, Democracy Now!, www.pacifica.org. You can hear his daily dispatches, his descriptions of what was happening in East Timor, as one of the last journalists who remained on the ground in East Timor.
Also, well, if you’re interested in doing something about this case, in Washington, the US State Department is saying they are getting a tremendous number of calls, both from people around the country, as well as from senators’ staff, senators and Congress members on this case. The US embassy in Jakarta is feeling tremendous pressure, and you can even do a kind of telephonic storming of the Bastille right at the immigration center, because, as you heard Allan talking, there is a telephone there. It is a long-distance call. But you can join with groups like the Committee to Protect Journalists, and you can go to their website, as well, at cpj.org to find out the latest on his case. You can join with those groups and our news organization, as well as many others who are condemning the Indonesian regime for trying to remove another set of eyes and ears, a window on the Indonesian occupation of East Timor. The number of the immigration center in Kupang, West Timor is 011-62-380-831-880, and you can ask why they’re moving forward with a prosecution, that’s 011-62-380-831-880, and ask why it is that the Indonesian military puts reporters on the blacklist because they’ve survived massacres and reported on them.
Well, that takes care of this segment on the reporter that’s been bringing us a lot of this news, but we’re going to go right now to what’s happening in the area where he’s being detained, and that is West Timor, most importantly, what’s happening to the upwards perhaps of something like 200,000 Timorese refugees. The UN has estimated that perhaps three-quarters of the Timorese population have been displaced, hundreds of thousands in the mountains of East Timor. It’s dry season, tremendous concern about hunger and thirst, as they’ve taken to the hills to escape the Indonesian military and the militias. They’ve also been forcibly deported into West Timor, and we’re going to speak with two people, one who has documented what is going on in West Timor, the other who is attempting to do something about it with his group, Timor Aid…