Here is something that is sure to get under the skin of the members of Commission I of the House of Representatives (DPR) in Indonesia, Balibo. Commission I has responsibility for matters relating to defense, intelligence, foreign affairs, telecommunications, and information. Just about anything remotely related to the Indonesian and Australian bilateral relationship that is probing of Indonesia or her past is dismissed as foreign interference in Indonesians sovereign affairs.
The film Balibo is about five journalists (Greg Shackleton, Tony Stewart, Gary Cunningham, Brian Peters, and Malcolm Rennie) who were either murdered or killed in the cross-fire between Indonesian troops and Timorese rebels. Primarily the focus is on the relationship between Roger East and Jose Ramos Horta. East was later captured and executed, reportedly by firing squad, by Indonesian soldiers. This happened during Indonesia's invasion of the former Portuguese colony that ultimately led to Portuguese Timor being integrated into Indonesia as East Timor.
Aside from the justice that the Balibo Five deserve, Roger East also deserves to receive justice. Journalists must not be cold-bloodedly murdered by invading and occupying forces. More than that, journalists must not be targeted and murdered in the course of pursuing their profession.
This invasion led to the Timorese suffering for the next 24 years at the hands of a greedy colonizer with an insatiable appetite for natural resources and violence. History was only set right with the direct ballot of 1999. Unfortunately, this was not an entirely peaceful transition from colonization to independence.
East Timor has now become the independent Timor Leste.
The film has premiered at the Melbourne International Film Festival where the current Timor Leste president and former rebel leader, Jose Ramos Horta, spoke about his knowledge of the events of 1975. His comments make for interesting reading and are more likely to strain the Timor Leste and Indonesian bilateral relationship than the fact that Australian film makers have gone about making this film.
Interestingly, the Melbourne International Film Festival website has been hacked purportedly by Chinese hackers critical of the festival's decision to screen a film about the violence perpetrated by the Chinese state against the Uighurs. Here is the link (not sure if it is still hacked and displaying the Chinese flag).
According to Ramos Horta, who is known for being very blunt in his assessment of most things, has said that the killings were not an accident nor did they occur in a cross-fire situation. To the contrary, according to Ramos Horta, the five journalist were tortured and then killed.
It is worth noting that Australia was the only country to recognize Indonesia's sovereignty over Timor Leste. It is also worth noting that the governments of Australia and the United States of America were complicit in the invasion as both gave the green light to Soeharto and his bunch of not so merry marauders to go about their invasion business.
Many are looking to see whether the film will put a strain on bilateral relations, it won't but it probably should! Now, whether or not it should is a different question altogether. Yet, if the most recent statements coming from the Indonesian Department of Foreign Affairs is anything to go by, then it is unlikely that there will be any significant impact on the relationship.
Teuku Faizasyah, is quoted as saying that to all intents and purposes this issue has been settled and the accepted explanation of the deaths are that the five journalists were killed in the cross-fire between Indonesian soldiers and Fretilin rebels. Simply, "they were in the wrong place at the wrong time." It is hardly surprising that the Indonesian government is dismissing the film as fiction and the vivid imagination of film makers.
What will be really interesting is whether or not the film gets past Indonesian censors and is shown in Indonesian theatres across the breadth of the archipelago. This is interesting because Faizasyah is also reported to have said that the Indonesian government is not into banning films as this would kill the film sector. This is certainly a different position from that which was adopted in the past.
My personal opinion is that they were murdered and that those responsible, the majority of whom are still alive, must be held accountable for their actions. On the bilateral relationship front between Indonesia and Australia, the relationship is likely to come under pressure if the Australian government was to get some testicular fortitude in the aftermath of the screening of the film and pursue the NSW Coroner's findings about who was responsible and what action should be taken (I have written about this here).
The reason I don't think that this film will unduly strain bilateral relations is that I do not believe that my government has the testicular fortitude, at this point in time, to pursue this. This makes me sad, if for no other reason that it proves the saying, "that the first casualty of war is truth".
I have not seen the film yet. I cannot get down to Melbourne for the festival. However, as soon as I get the chance to see it in Sydney, I will. I will then write a review of it and post it on the blog.
For now, I attach the Official Trailer (available on YouTube) for your viewing (dis)pleasure.