ETAN Urges Respect for Right to Protest in Timor-Leste

Contact John M. Miller, National Coordinator, +1/718-596-7668

July 10 – The East Timor and Indonesia Action Network (ETAN) is
deeply disturbed by heavy-handed police actions — including the use
of tear gas and large numbers of arrests — against nonviolent
student demonstrators in Dili this week. We urge Timor-Leste
authorities to fully respect the right of peaceful protest and to
immediately release everyone arrested for peacefully expressing their
views. Police procedures and training should be reviewed so that
similar over-reactions do not take place in the future.

The right to assemble and peacefully-protest government policy is
enshrined in Timor-Leste’ s constitution and in the human rights
treaties that Timor-Leste ratified upon becoming independent. The
struggle to achieve these rights, and their exercise by people around
the world, were fundamental to Timor’s independence struggle.

The police action appears to be based on the flawed law on
demonstrations and assembly, which bars demonstrations in public
places within 100 meters of official buildings and other listed
locations. The main building of the National University of
Timor-Leste is directly across the street from the National
Parliament, less than 100m away.

When the demonstration and assembly law was drafted in 2005, many
argued that the distance limit (originally set at 500 m) was an
arbitrary, excessive limitation on the Constitutional right to free
speech. The 100-meter limit in the law must be removed. In the
meantime, the right of students to peacefully assemble on their
campus must be respected.

The actions of the police raise questions about whether the
international training instituted after the 2006 crisis has increased
the PNTL’s understanding of its role in protecting human rights or
how to respect them?

The government of Timor-Leste has a constitutional and international
legal obligation to protect freedom of expression, not limit it. The
government and the PNTL must carry out this obligation whether or not
they agree with what is being expressed.

ETAN is concerned that the focus of the student demonstrations — a
122% increase in government expenditures as a mid-year “budget
adjustment” — has serious implications which have not been debated
widely in Timor-Leste. We support the students in bringing this issue
to public attention, and encourage all East Timorese and others
concerned about the country to be vigilant in helping Timor-Leste
avoid falling into the “resource curse” that engulfs nearly all
low-income, petroleum-dependent countries.

ETAN advocates for democracy, justice and human rights for
Timor-Leste (East Timor) and Indonesia. For more information, see
http://www.etan.org.

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