Nearly two years ago, Stacey Addison of Portland, Oregon, began a trip around the world starting in Antarctica. But the trip turned into a nightmare soon after she arrived in East Timor. On September 5, Stacey, a veterinarian, was traveling in a shared taxi with another passenger she had never met. The other passenger asked the driver to stop at a DHL postal office to pick up a package. It turned out the package contained illegal drugs. Soon after, the taxi was stopped by police. Police arrested everyone in the car. More than three months later, Stacey is still locked up in East Timor. Her family and friends have been waging an international campaign for her release. We are joined by two guests: Stacey Addison’s mother, Bernadette Kero, and Charles Scheiner of La’o Hamutuk, the Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Nearly two years ago, a veterinarian from Portland, Oregon, named Stacey Addison began a trip around the world, starting in Antarctica. But the trip turned into a nightmare soon after she arrived in East Timor in September. On September 5th, Stacey was traveling in a shared taxi with another passenger she had never met. The other passenger asked the driver to stop at a DHL postal office to pick up a package. It turned out the package contained illegal drugs. Soon after, the taxi was stopped by police. Police arrested everyone in the car. More than three months later, Stacey is still locked up in East Timor.
AMY GOODMAN: Stacey was initially detained for five days, then released, but had her passport taken. She was then re-arrested on October 28th. Her family and friends have been waging an international campaign for her release. The State Department said in response to Democracy Now!’s request for comment, quote, “We seek a prompt and transparent resolution to this case in accordance with Timorese law. We continue to work with the Government of Timor-Leste”—which is East Timor—”to ensure that she is given due process under the Timorese legal system.”
We’re joined now by two guests. On the phone with us from Klamath Falls, Oregon, is Stacey Addison’s mother, Bernadette Kero. Here in New York, Charlie Scheiner is with us, the former national coordinator of the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network, ETAN. He has lived in East Timor since 2001 and works as a researcher for La’o Hamutuk, the Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis.
Let’s first go to Stacey’s mom in Klamath Falls in Oregon, Bernadette Kero. So, explain exactly what happened. Stacey has been posting to Facebook her traveling. She was a veterinarian, so she’s always showing herself with animals around the world. And then, Bernadette, what happened when she crossed from West Timor into East Timor?
BERNADETTE KERO: Well, she had been traveling on the Asian leg of her journey, and her Indonesian passport was about to expire, so she crossed over into her—into Timor. And her intention was to renew her Indonesian passport, but spend a week or two in East Timor. You know, she heard it was a beautiful country. They had good snorkeling. And so, she intended to tour the country. When she crossed the border, she was approached by someone to hire a car with the other passenger, so she paid $10 to get a ride to Dili, and that’s what transpired. The other passenger, as you said, asked to stop at DHL, picked up a package. Apparently, there was some sort of tip, and the car was surrounded by police. Everyone was arrested.
Initially, they told Stacey that they needed to search her. They searched her, everything—her belongings, her iPad, her—even her Advil, her drugs. They gave her drug tests. Everything was negative. The driver and the other passenger said they didn’t know her. But she was taken to jail for five days, before being brought before the judge. And again, the other passenger and the driver testified, before the judge, they didn’t know her. And she was given conditional release. So she was able to be about Dili for two months, but she didn’t have her passport. And during that time, she asked to be questioned, repeatedly. You know, she just wanted to cooperate to show she had nothing to do with it. And so, it was very shocking when she was arrested and actually put into prison.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what did they tell her when they re-arrested her as to—for the reasons for it?
BERNADETTE KERO: No—
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And has she been brought up before a court yet?
BERNADETTE KERO: Really, there was not much of an explanation. Everything’s very murky. The only explanation her lawyer received was that the previous prosecutor, who’s since then been fired and removed and left the country, he had put in, a month before, an appeal that he didn’t agree with her conditional release. Again, no charges of any kind are—you know, apparently, that’s legal there, that people can be kept without a charge. So—
AMY GOODMAN: So the prosecutor’s been thrown out, the judge has been thrown out, but Stacey remains in jail.
BERNADETTE KERO: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to turn to comment son Stacey Addison made by East Timor’s former head of state and Nobel laureate, José Ramos-Horta. He was speaking on CNN.
JOSÉ RAMOS-HORTA: She is depressed. For someone like her, coming from Oregon, on a backpacking around the world, to find herself in a prison, you cannot expect her to be not depressed. My instinct is that she is completely innocent.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s the former president of Timor, José Ramos-Horta, who’s now heading up a U.N. commission to evaluate peacekeeping around the world. Charlie Scheiner, can you put this in a bigger context? We don’t cover East Timor very much. We used to a great deal when it was occupied by Indonesia for a quarter of a century in a brutal occupation that killed a third of the population. Explain what’s happening. You lived there for the last more than a decade.
CHARLES SCHEINER: Yeah, I think Stacey’s case is a—Stacey’s been very unlucky, clearly. And there’s been a combination of bad luck that has led to her still being in prison, and of course she should be charged or released and have her day in court, like anyone else.
I think that she actually has been treated fairly well in prison. She’s depressed. Nobody wants to be in prison in a—far away from their family and their home. But if we’re comparing it with, say, Guantánamo, or comparing the situation in Timor-Leste with the situation in the U.S., there are in the entire country of Timor-Leste less than a hundred people in pretrial detention, while in the U.S. there are about 400,000. And the U.S. does not have 44 million times the population of Timor-Leste; it has about 300 times the population.
So, the situation there, there are problems with the justice system. And actually, in Stacey’s case, there seems to be some progress, and she may well be released in the next few weeks. But there are much bigger problems for the million Timorese people who live in that country—problems of poverty, problems of lack of rule of law, problems of an increasing distance between the small ruling elite and the great majority of the population.
AMY GOODMAN: It became a country in 2002.
CHARLES SCHEINER: Right, after the Indonesian occupation, which came after almost 500 years of Portuguese colonial rule, there was a vote in 1999, and then there were two-and-a-half years of United Nations transitional government, and then Timor-Leste officially became a sovereign nation on the 20th of May, 2002. So it’s only 14 years—or, 12 years old. And it’s having the problems that many adolescents have of trying to figure out its identity, of trying to—of looking at short-term policies and short-term decisions rather than thinking about the future. And as one of the most petroleum export-dependent countries in the world—it’s probably in the top three, except that it doesn’t have very much oil and natural gas—it’s got a little bit of a window of opportunity to use that money to benefit the lives of the people and to develop a more sustainable economy. And unfortunately, it’s not using that opportunity.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That’s precisely what I was going ask you, because it does have, relatively for its size, a considerable surplus in terms of its oil revenues at this stage, billions of dollars in a fund, and yet it’s not utilizing that to improve the conditions of the people?
CHARLES SCHEINER: Right. Well, Timor-Leste wisely realized, when they first started—or, actually, before they first started getting money from oil and gas, which was in 2006, that that was temporary, that the oil and gas was nonrenewable—once it was extracted, they wouldn’t have it anymore—and they shouldn’t spend the money as fast as it comes in. So they’ve spent about $5 billion out of the oil money. They’ve saved about $16 billion. And they have already been through, have already used up about two-thirds of their oil and gas reserves. So, in another five years, when the oil and gas runs out, and the 95 percent of the state budget that that now pays for—it’s about 80 percent of the entire economy—when that comes to zero—and it’s already dropping—they’re going to need that $16 billion. But what’s distressing to the organization I work for and to many people is that the $5 billion that has been spent hasn’t been invested in things like education, healthcare, basic sanitation—the things that are needed both to improve people’s lives and to provide a sustainable economy in the future.
AMY GOODMAN: So, explain what Stacey has been caught in right now. She’s been held in pretrial detention. The prosecutor and the judge, why have they been thrown out of the country?
CHARLES SCHEINER: In the end of October, the prime minister, Xanana Gusmão, went to the Parliament, in a closed meeting—which is, I think, not legal—and persuaded Parliament to pass a resolution saying, “We need to have a thorough audit of the judicial system, and all foreign prosecutors, judges, advisers working in the judicial system should leave the country.” The court—and then, the same day, there was a resolution passed by the Council of Ministers, by the Cabinet, to reinforce that. The head of the court system said, “We have separation of powers. The judges and the prosecutors don’t work for Parliament and the prime minister. They work for me,” and, “Keep working.” And then, a week later, the government passed a resolution saying, “These contracts are terminated. These people don’t have valid visas anymore. They have to leave within 48 hours.” And they did.
Timor-Leste, unfortunately, as a small new country, depends on foreigners for a lot of things, including some support in the court system. And many of the foreigners who go there are not very good. So it’s not a question that these were wonderful judges who were doing a great job. And in fact, the one who was the prosecutor for Stacey’s case, who was a foreigner from Cabo Verde, is part of the problem of why she’s still in prison. He’s gone now. There’s a Timorese prosecutor who, from what I’ve been told, has been doing a much better job, who’s talking with her, who questioned her, is taking her statements, and is starting the process now which will get her out of prison.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I’d like to bring Bernadette Kero, Stacey’s mother, back into the conversation. What kind of contact have you had with your daughter? And what’s been the role of U.S. officials in East Timor in terms of helping you gain her freedom?
BERNADETTE KERO: I can contact her once a week through the embassy, when they visit. I can email them a letter, and they print it out, and she’s able to write me a response, and they scan it back. So, that’s my only contact, is once a week. She’s—you know, she’s discouraged. She’s been ill with gastrointestinal problems, quite severely this last week. So, that’s my basic contact. The embassy has been very supportive. They usually call me after the visit, let me know. And we’ve been in touch through email. So, that’s my contact.
And in response to Mr. Scheiner, you know, I would agree, totally, that—I’ve read a lot about the country. Didn’t know much about it before this, but since, I’ve read quite a bit. And, you know, they’ve had quite a history of struggles. And I think it’s just unfortunate for, of course, my daughter, for our family and for the country, this whole situation, because Stacey is just the type of person, a tourist, they—you know, could benefit their country. She wanted to see the local culture. She’s interested in going to the sites, the scuba and all that, and a professional who, you know, loves to travel, had some extra money to do it.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to certainly continue to tell her story. Bernadette Kero, thanks so much for being with us from Klamath Falls, Oregon, Dr. Stacey Addison’s mom. Stacey is in jail now in East Timor. Her Facebook, Facebook.com/PleaseHelpStacey, we’ll link to it at democracynow.org. And, Charlie Scheiner, thanks so much for being with us.
CHARLES SCHEINER: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: Former national coordinator of the East Timor and Indonesia Action Network, has lived in Timor, Timor-Leste, since 2001, now with La’o Hamutuk, the Timor-Leste Institute for Development Monitoring and Analysis.