Reporters Without Borders urged the authorities and foreign forces in East Timor to secure the offices of the main media after nearly 40 opposition militants raided Timor-Leste TV and radio station, TVTL, on 29 June 2006.
They ransacked the premises, manhandled employees and demanded that broadcasts should be suspended.
The management has now drastically reduced output of local news, for fear of further reprisals. It is currently only broadcasting Portuguese programmes but plans to return to normal on 3 July.
“This attack shows that the peace-keeping forces are not doing enough to protect journalists and it is essential for the stability of the country that there should be free circulation of news,” said the press freedom organisation.
The anti-government attack was believed linked to a broadcast on TVTL the previous day of a speech by the outgoing prime minister, Mari Alkatiri, leader of the Fretilin party.
Opposition groups have been threatening TVTL for several weeks, but the channel only obtained protection from the Australian armed forces on 30 June, although its management said it had asked for such protection five weeks ago.
Increasing threats and violence against journalists
Reporters Without Borders today condemned a physical attack on 12 June on two employees of the Timor Post outside its premises in the capital, Dili. The newspaper, the country’s leading independent daily, had previously received threats from supporters of the Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri. A Timorese reporter working for the Associated Press was also briefly detained by Australian peacekeepers.
“Many journalists have been the victims of physical attacks, threats and arrests since the start of the mutiny by soldiers opposed to the government,” the press freedom organisation said. “Prime minister’s supporters are suspected of targeting independent news media. We deplore this violence, which is obstructing the work of the press, and we call on the UN mission charged with investigating the recent violence to include attacks on the press in its enquiries.”
In the 12 June incident, a group of youths threw stones at two Timor Post employees working in its marketing and distribution sections. Editor Carlos de Jesus said the violence could be linked to recent reports it had published that were critical of the prime minister.
Most of the Timor Post’s employees went into hiding on 23 May for fear of reprisals, while publication of both the Timor Post and the Suara Timor Lorosae, another daily, was suspended for several days. An army officer close to the prime minister went to the Timor Post’s offices on 24 May to threaten its journalists.
Reporters Without Borders also called on the officers in charge of the Australian peace-keeping force to remind their troops not to restrict the freedom of movement of both Timorese and foreign journalists. Jose Belo, an AP stringer in East Timor, was manhandled and detained for four hours by Australian soldiers in Dili on 10 June. The AP said they treated him in a “violent and disrespectful” manner. José Belo told Reporters Without Borders that the Australian soldiers never told him why he had been arrested.
Reporters Without Borders had the following to say about East Timor in its annual report on developments during 2005: “The government of Mari Alkatiri, visibly angered by media independence, tried to bring the privately-owned daily Suara Timor Lorosae in line in February by calling for a boycott of the newspaper and evicting it from its offices.”
The report added: “In December, the prime minister initiated a reform of the criminal code, penalising press offences. Journalists will face up to three years in prison for defamation of anyone in a public authority role, a backward step that was condemned by many journalists. This tougher line came after various voices were raised to condemn poor governance of the country.”