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Monday, 24 May 1993
Page: 1064


Senator GILES —My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. What is the Government's response to the verdict in the trial of Fretilin leader Xanana Gusmao? Was the trial conducted fairly and was Xanana given adequate opportunities to mount a defence?


Senator GARETH EVANS —Xanana Gusmao was found guilty last Friday, 21 May, under article 106 of the Indonesian criminal code, of sedition and rebellion and, under the emergency law, of possession of firearms. He has been sentenced to life imprisonment. He was not charged under the anti-subversion law, which carried the death penalty and, although the firearms offence did carry that penalty, it was not sought by the prosecution. The length of the life sentence has not been specified, but it should not be assumed that it means for term of one's natural life. In other cases in Indonesia life imprisonment has meant around 15 to 20 years, although with crimes against the State there have been cases—it must be acknowledged—in which this has been exceeded.

  Given Xanana's self-acknowledged role as the leader of the armed resistance in East Timor and the uncontested nature of the key elements of the evidence, it has to be said that that verdict was not surprising. In fact, when compared with the charges laid and the sentences handed down in trials of other so-called rebels in Indonesia, Xanana's sentence is in fact less severe. His defence lawyer, Sudjono, has now said that Xanana is not appealing the sentence but will be seeking presidential clemency.

  I have already made clear on a number of occasions, and I do so again, my hope and the Australian Government's hope that the Indonesian authorities will see the handling of Xanana's case as an occasion for achieving longer term reconciliation in East Timor, including through such strategies as a major reduction in the military presence, a major economic development strategy, further recognition of East Timor's distinctive cultural identity and possibly some greater degree of autonomy. It would obviously be of great help in achieving that reconciliation if Xanana's sentence were to be substantially reduced by presidential clemency and we will be making that point in our further discussions with the Indonesian Government.

  As to the conduct of the trial, while in terms of the standards that we and others would ideally like to see applied, there were a number of specific problems with the overall fairness of the trial. However, they should not be overstated. None of them was unique to the management of this case nor were they, in our judgment, so severe or so deep in nature as to have fundamentally impaired the process that is provided for under the Indonesian Criminal Procedures Code. Overall, court proceedings were open to diplomatic observers, to local and foreign media and to domestic and international human rights organisations, including Asia Watch, the ICJ and a UN observer. That was a welcome development.

  However, it was regrettable that certain individual observers, including Australia's Rodney Lewis, were prevented from attending, effectively at all, and that no observers at all were admitted to the trial sessions on 12 and 17 May. It is also a matter for concern that Xanana was barred by court authorities from reading out in full his own prepared defence statement. The criminal code of Indonesia does provide for the accused to exercise the right of a full and final say and defence lawyer Sujono argued strongly that he should be allowed to read the full statement.

  On the question of legal representation, it is not clear again that Xanana was given the lawyer of his choice, but it does seem at the same time generally accepted that defence lawyer Sudjono did make diligent and comprehensive efforts in mounting the defence case. He met Xanana five times before the trial began and had no difficulty of access to him during the trial.

  Finally, on the question of his treatment during detention and trial, we have no information to suggest that he was ill-treated, and we have been closely following the case through our mission in Jakarta from the start, including through contact with a number of independent non-government organisations. I remain confident of the assurances given to me at the highest levels of the Indonesian Government that Xanana would not be ill-treated in detention. I have, however, instructed our embassy in Jakarta to raise with the Indonesian authorities the need for continuing regular access by the International Committee of the Red Cross to Xanana and to other detainees.