"The journalists are martyrs for East Timor and I believe they are East Timorese as well."1
In October 1975, the Indonesian military was conducting a terror and destabilisation campaign in the border regions of East Timor. Its aim was to generate atrocities that could be falsely attributed to pro-independence East Timorese forces. It would then be able to invade under the pretext of "restoring order". Five journalists employed by Australian TV stations went to East Timor to cover the conflict. If the journalists had obtained film footage of the military campaign and conveyed it to the outside world, the Indonesian military's cover story would have been blown. The five were killed within days of arriving at the border town of Balibo. A sixth journalist, Roger East, was killed a few weeks later in front of more than 100 witnesses. He was not the last foreign journalist to be killed by Indonesian troops. That position is occupied by Sander Thoenes, who was killed on 21st September 1999. And Indonesian journalist Agus Muliawan was murdered by Indonesian forces four days later.
In 2007, a coronial inquest established that the five journalists - Brian Peters, Malcolm Rennie, Greg Shackleton, Gary Cunningham and Tony Stewart - clearly identified themselves as Australians and as journalists. They were unarmed and dressed in civilian clothes. They had their hands raised in the universally recognised gesture of surrender. They were killed deliberately on orders that emanated from the highest levels. Their corpses were dressed in uniforms, guns placed beside them, and photographs taken in an attempt to portray them as legitimate targets.
I was Consulting Historian for the Balibo film. I was fortunate to work with film director Robert Connolly, who was committed to historical accuracy. This website provides some factual commentary for those who have seen the film and want to know more about the issues. It draws on the important work of East Timor's Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation. The Commission, known by its Portuguese initials C.A.V.R. (A Comissao de Acolhimento, Verdade e Reconciliaçao) was established as an independent statutory authority in July 2001 by the UN Transitional Authority in East Timor. It was mandated to inquire into human rights abuses committed by all sides between April 1974 and October 1999. Its official report, Chega! (Portuguese for 'enough'), was written by national and international staff working under the direction and supervision of the CAVR's seven East Timorese commissioners.
To Indonesian and East Timorese readers: we have some important things in common: a desire for a peaceful life, decent healthcare for all, a good education, a clean environment, meaningful relationships and a viable future for our children. I hope this website contributes to a better relationship among our three countries by allowing the truth to be known and justice to prevail.
1 Manuel da Silva, Balibo inquest, 2007.
The information on this site is based on the research conducted by Dr Clinton Fernandes. While he is happy for you to use it freely, please understand that it should be cited and that like all research data is defined by its context.