Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Battle for the Truth Behind Five Journalists’ Deaths in Indonesia


Over the years, Maureen Tolfree has grown used to the lies and obfuscation, the tiny steps of progress that are followed, invariably, by further setbacks. At the age of 69 she is not ready to be quiet, even though she is now in poor health.

She has invested much of her energy over the past two decades trying to secure justice for her brother, Brian Peters, one of five journalists murdered by Indonesian soldiers on 16 October 1975, as the Asian nation prepared to invade East Timor. Another journalist who went to investigate the killings was also executed.

Indonesia has always insisted the so-called Balibo Five were killed in crossfire. But after years of campaigning by Mrs Tolfree and other relatives, an Australian judge in 2007 ruled the journalists, who were working for two Australian television networks, were killed by Indonesian special forces to prevent news of the impending invasion from getting out.

The judge asked the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to investigate whether war crimes charges were applicable and if three senior Indonesian officers accused of ordering the killings could be summoned. Now, seven years on, the Australian police have concluded that they are unable to progress with such charges.

The AFP said this week that it had “concluded that there is currently insufficient evidence to prove an offence”.

Mrs Tolfree believes her brother, who was 29 – along with fellow journalists Malcolm Rennie, 28, Gary Cunningham, 27, Gregory Shackleton, 29, and Anthony Stewart – have been let down by political and strategic considerations. “I dispute that [finding],” she said. “They have had the evidence since the coroner’s inquest. I am disgusted, and I am sure the Australian people will be as well.”

She said neither Australia, which has important energy deals with Jakarta, nor the UK, which has a close military relationship with Indonesia, wanted to rock the boat. The announcement that the AFP was dropping its investigation came a day after Prime Minister Tony Abbott attended the inauguration of Indonesian President Joko Widodo. “No one ever wanted to upset the Indonesians,” Mrs Tolfree said.

For years, she accepted the Indonesian claim that the men had been killed in crossfire. It was only in 1994 while listening to a documentary about claims the Indonesians had committed war crimes that she started researching the background to the killings. Mrs Tolfree said documents show that Australia was aware of Indonesia’s plan to invade the Portuguese territory, which finally gained independence in 2002. An estimated 100,000 people died during the Indonesian occupation.

Mrs Tolfree said she was not optimistic that her brother, or the other journalists, will get justice any time soon. “There was only one good thing about this and that was that because they killed journalists it kept the story alive for the people of East Timor.” The Independent (UK) By Andrew Buncombe

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