//
you're reading...
Australian History

On this day (Australia): In 1975, the Balibo Five, a group of Australian television journalists based in Portuguese Timor, were killed by Indonesian troops


The Balibo Five

On 16 Ocober 1975, the Balibo Five, a group of Australian television journalists based in the town of Balibo in the then Portuguese Timor (now East Timor), were killed by Indonesian troops.

The Balibo Five was a group of journalists for Australian commercial television networks who were killed in the period leading up to the Indonesian invasion of East Timor.

The Balibo Five were based in the town of Balibo in East Timor (then Portuguese Timor), where they were killed on 16 October 1975 during Indonesian incursions before the invasion. 

Roger East travelled to Balibo soon after to investigate the likely deaths of the Five and was later executed by members of the Indonesian military on the docks of Dili.

In 2007, an Australian coroner ruled that they had been deliberately killed by Indonesian special forces soldiers. The official Indonesian version is that the men were killed by cross-fire during the battle for the town.

According to The Economist, the Australian Government has never challenged this view in order to avoid damaging relations with Indonesia.

After the ruling, newly elected Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd declared “those responsible should be held to account… You can’t just sweep this to one side”. However, no meaningful action was taken after he was elected, and Rudd refused to visit the gravesite of the slain journalists in 2008.

The journalists

The group comprised two Australians, reporter Greg Shackleton, 29, and sound recordist Tony Stewart, 21; a New Zealander, Gary Cunningham, 27, cameraman for HSV-7 (now part of the Seven Network) in Melbourne; and two Britons, cameraman Brian Peters, 24, and reporter Malcolm Rennie, 29, both working for TCN-9 (now part of the Nine Network) in Sydney.

While the men were aware that Indonesian troops were to mount an attack on the town of Balibo, they believed that, as journalists, they would not be considered military targets. Greg Shackleton was filmed painting an Australian flag and the word ‘AUSTRALIA’ on the wall of a house in the town square.

Balibo House Trust, established in 2003 with seed funding from the Victorian Government and television stations 7 and 9, now owns this house and preserves it as a community learning centre.

Senior diplomats told the 2007 coroner’s inquest of their understanding that “the killing was done by the Indonesian military and that it was deliberate”.

According to historian Clinton Fernandes:

“The five journalists… 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”.

Roger East

Roger East, 53, an Australian AAP-Reuters journalist, travelled to East Timor to investigate the deaths of the five men. East was captured in Dili by the Indonesian military on 7 December 1975, the day of the invasion, and executed by firing squad on the morning of 8 December with his body being disposed of in the ocean.

He has been referred to as the forgotten sixth member of the Balibo Five. Calls for an inquest into East’s death have been rejected.

A 1999 government enquiry into the deaths of the Balibo Five and Roger East, conducted by the former chairman of the National Crime Authority and Australian Government Solicitor Tom Sherman, found no evidence of murder but accused Indonesia of burning their bodies in a “charade” to destroy all evidence of a “monumental blunder” following their deaths in crossfire. However, in contrast to the Balibo incident, the killing of Roger East:

“took place in an urban area with a number of uninvolved persons in close proximity. The quality of the evidence on Roger East’s death was much higher. The evidence came from two eyewitnesses, supported by strong circumstantial evidence of the killing from two further witnesses. In relation to Roger East, I have concluded that it is more likely than not he was summarily executed by an unidentified Indonesian soldier late on the morning of December 8, 1975, in the wharf area of Dili”.

War crimes investigation

On 9 September 2009, it was announced that the Australian Federal Police were launching a war crimes probe into the deaths of the Balibo Five.

In 2009, former Indonesian soldier Gatot Purwanto told the ABC the men were shot deliberately but not executed. He says he was about 30 metres away when Indonesian soldiers fired on the house in which the men were sheltering. “We knew they were foreigners, but we didn’t think about whether they were journalists or not, because in a battle, the instinct is if they’re not friends, then they could kill us”, he said.

He said he was with Special Forces captain Yunus Yosfiah when the Balibo Five were spotted. A coronial inquest into the deaths of the men found Yosfiah, who was later an Indonesian Government minister, ordered the killings.

Professor Ben Saul, who acted for the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) at the NSW inquiry, said there are “complexities” in the legal situation relating to prosecuting a war crime. “It has to show that there was an international armed conflict between Indonesia and Portugal … and that in the context of that the journalist were killed”, he said, adding “I think the legal case for that conflict’s existence is very strong on the facts”.

He said that while the criminal standard of proof was much higher for the police than in a coronial inquest, the AFP have not “satisfactorily” explained whether they had exhausted all lines of inquiry.

The AFP then concluded, in 2014, that there was insufficient evidence to prove an offence.

Source: Wikipedia

About Craig Hill

Teacher and Writer. Writing has been cited in New York Times, BBC, Fox News, Aljazeera, Philippines Star, South China Morning Post, National Interest, news.com.au, Wikipedia and others.

Discussion

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

If you liked what you just read, click "Subscribe" to become a follower of the Craig Hill site. You will receive an email each time a new post is published.

Join 15,052 other followers

An archive of all my old posts

Follow me on Twitter

Most Recent Posts Post on My Blog About China: China News

Chinese geo-strategic expansion in the Levant: A case study of Lebanon

Chinese geo-strategic expansion in the Levant: A case study of Lebanon

As soon as the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949, China and the Middle East faced a series of challenges. In recent years, China’s influence in the region has expanded due to its economic interests in energy, trade, infrastructure construction, and diplomatic contacts with the region’s countries. This is linked to President Xi […]

The Chinese Communist Party still thinks it owns the future

The Chinese Communist Party still thinks it owns the future

A rising chorus of analysts now describe China as a “peaking power”—one that might take greater risks to revise the international order before its strategic window of opportunity closes. They cite the country’s aging population , slowing economy , and hostile external environment  as evidence that time is no longer on China’s side. The “fear of decline,” they […]

Chinese maritime militia threatens order in South China Sea

Chinese maritime militia threatens order in South China Sea

Hundreds of Chinese maritime militia vessels are operating in contested areas of the South China Sea on a consistent basis, according to a new U.S. think tank report that says this poses a significant challenge to “maritime order rooted in international law.” The Washington, D.C.,-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), says that for […]

Cadence Column: Asia, November 22, 2021

Cadence Column: Asia, November 22, 2021

The world is not responding well to the so-called “plandemic”. The important thing is not whether the global disease, as said by Judy Mikovits to have been developed under the supervision of Fauci, was actually intended to do all this. The public thinks it was because governments haven’t work carefully to earn public trust. Even […]

Tackling Chinese technological advantage 

Tackling Chinese technological advantage 

“China has won the artificial intelligence battle with the United States and is heading towards global dominance because of its technological advances”. When the Pentagon’s former software chief Nick Chaillan made this claim, it felt as if the whole world had come crashing down. The whole episode gave rise to the debate about who’s ahead […]

Biden and Xi move back from the brink

Biden and Xi move back from the brink

The three-and-half-hour virtual summit meeting between President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping did not, and could not, solve the fundamental problems that have driven the two great powers toward confrontation. But both men clearly wanted to challenge the misperception that they are on the brink of conflict, and to prevent an unintended escalation […]

Celebrities who disappeared in China after speaking out about the Communist Party or powerful people

Celebrities who disappeared in China after speaking out about the Communist Party  or powerful people

Peng Shuai has not been heard from since she accused a top Chinese official of sexual assault. The 35-year-old tennis player is one of China’s biggest sports stars. In a post on November 2 on Weibo, Peng alleged the former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli coerced her into sex and that they had an affair. Afterward, the post was taken […]

China’s ‘leftover women’ using their financial power to fight stigma

China’s ‘leftover women’ using their financial power to fight stigma

In China, if you are female, educated and unmarried by the age of 27, people might use a particular term – “sheng-nu” – to describe your social status. It translates simply as “leftover woman.” The label was deliberately invented to curb the rising number of single women in a traditional society that sometimes views not […]

Health workers in China are killing pets while their owners are in quarantine

Health workers in China are killing pets while their owners are in quarantine

Local health workers in some Chinese cities are breaking into people’s homes and killing their pets while the owners are in quarantine, prompting outrage online. In one case, a dog owner named Ms Fu witnessed through her home security camera as people clothed in hazmat suits entered her home and beat her pet corgi to […]

Xi Jinping’s Terrifying New China

Xi Jinping’s Terrifying New China

China’s social media was briefly aflutter this fall about an impressive feat in the popular online fantasy game Honor of Kings. A player had completed a “pentakill,” or five kills in a row, but something just smelled wrong: The user in question was 60 years old, according to the verified account information—hardly the type to […]

%d bloggers like this: