The solidarity activists had not received official invitations to these ceremonies. But they had a meeting with the President, and weren’t happy to learn that, in his 10th anniversary speech, he was opposing the setting up of an international tribunal to investigate war crimes alleged to have been perpetrated in East Timor by the Indonesian military.
Accordingly an international student demonstration was organised in front of the Timor Hotel where many top-level invitees were staying. Sadly, this peaceful demonstration was stopped by police, and three of the students taken into custody.
This kind of thing is happening so often nowadays, all round the world, but it was ironic that it should have happened in East Timor on the very day the winning of national freedom was being celebrated.
It reminded me of the campaigning I was involved in many years ago. In 1994, IID organised a conference on East Timor, and – together with some friends – I was offered the chance to go to Manila to take part.
The Philippines government was under pressure from Indonesia to cancel the conference, but the organisers had obtained a court order authorising them to proceed. So the government tried instead to block overseas participants from attending.
We knew nothing about this until we arrived at Manila Airport, and the immigration officers refused us entry and started the process for deporting us.
I noticed that the airport was full of media people, so I thought this would be my best chance to speak out on East Timor. I only had a few seconds to decide, but the worst that could happen to me was to be permanently banned from the Philippines.
So I began delivering my speech in solidarity with East Timor in the middle of the terminal. The immigration officers tried to stop me, then finally dragged me to the same flight on which I’d come and, together with another community leader, I was flown back to Singapore.
The young arrestees from the Timor Hotel demo were held for three days, then produced in court. No complaints were made against them, so they were released.
Despite the fact that oppression seems to be always with us, it was truly heartening and inspiring for me to see the young generation upholding the principle of south-south solidarity as the way forward for the world.
Posted by FreddyG