Resistance radio 1975-1978

21 April 2016

Recordings of radio communications and broadcasts from the Fretilin-led resistance in the early occupation years are rare historical primary-source materials. We present information on known surviving copies and introduce a project to give access to them in Timor-Leste.

Alarico Fernandes, November 1975. The main voice of resistance radio until his surrender/capture with the radio in late 1978. [Photo: Jim Dunn]

Alarico Fernandes, November 1975. The main voice of resistance radio until his surrender/capture in late 1978. [Photo: Jim Dunn]

Alarico Fernandes’ desperate radio transmission (see sample below) from Dili on 7 December 1975, describing the full-scale Indonesian invasion of the newly-declared Democratic Republic of East Timor (RDTL), marked the beginning of three years of direct resistance contact with Australia and the outside world. The radio communications were the only regular source of information from East Timor not controlled by the Indonesian military in those early years.

Australian and East Timorese activists in Darwin conducted clandestine, coded, two-way radio contact for communications between the internal and external wings of the resistance. Occasional uncoded contacts and regular broadcasts from East Timor under the name of Radio Maubere, were also recorded by the activists for later transcription and reporting to solidarity groups and mainstream media.

The public transmissions from Timor reported on all aspects of occupation and resistance inside the territory. Extracts or summaries of then-public material can now be found online in the CHART-digitised, pre-1979 copies of CIET mimeographs, East Timor News and Timor Information Service.

While a definitive history of this part of the broader Timor story has yet to be written, published accounts of the transmission and recording operations at the Australian end can be found in the writings of activist participants Brian Manning, Chris Elenor and Rob Wesley-Smith.

Surviving recordings
Some 250 audiocassettes of resistance radio material is known by CHART to survive in Australia. Almost all surviving tapes are recordings of public radio material; very few internal or coded messages are known. The largest public collection comes from the archives of Melbourne’s Timor Information Service (TIS) and is held at the National Film & Sound Archive (NFSA) in Canberra (see partial list on NFSA catalogue). Other material is still held privately, including a few items owned by Rob Wesley-Smith who recorded them with his own receiver.

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Numbers of radio transmission recordings known to CHART to still exist in Australia.

As the figure above shows, we know of no recordings from the very early post-invasion months and the record of the controversial last period of contact in late 1978 is incomplete. It remains to be seen whether more recordings will emerge within Australia or from the archives of the Fretilin external leadership at that time.

Samples
We present here a few fragments of radio transmissions recorded in Australia. Click red ‘play’ button to listen.


Short fragment of Alarico Fernandes reporting full-scale Indonesian invasion of Dili. 00:13 (mins:secs). Source: East Timor Calling/Rod Harris collection. 


The opening segment of a standard Radio Maubere broadcast. 05:41. Source: Rob Wesley-Smith


Alarico Fernandes dictates a message from East Timor Red Cross in resistance-held areas to be forwarded to International Red Cross. 01:51. Source: Rob Wesley-Smith.


Excerpt from Nicolau Lobato speech following the 1977  arrest and expulsion of Xavier do Amaral from his positions as President of Fretilin and the Democratic Republic of East Timor. 05:20. Source: Timor Information Service / NFSA


Small fragments from the final days of radio contact. (1) Coded message from Alarico Fernandes; (2) Awkward two-way exchange between Fernandes and the Australian activist operator; (3) Rogerio Lobato sending repeated message to (unsuccesfully) re-establish radio contact with Timor. 02:57. Source: Rob Wesley-Smith.

Access in Timor-Leste
In concert with Australia’s NFSA and Timor’s Resistance Archive and Museum (AMRT), CHART has initiated a project to make radio recordings available for research and exhibition in Timor-Leste.

The TIS collection of some 200 recordings was deposited with NFSA in 2002. These recordings were given to TIS in the late 1970s by key Timor and radio contact activist, Denis Freney. All recordings have since been professionally digitised by NFSA for long-term preservation and access.

In July 2015, CHART and AMRT signed an agreement for a pilot project on transfer of recordings to Timor-Leste. In exchange for digital copies of recordings, AMRT staff will create, and copy to NFSA, textual summaries of recording content to assist researcher access. At the conclusion of the pilot project some time in 2016, the parties will review the process and decide on the next steps to ensure eventual access in Timor-Leste to available radio recordings.


Keeping secret (some) Australian goverment archives

16 April 2014

The National Archives of Australia’s holdings of government records about East Timor are a rich evidential and research resource, but parts of the record remain closed to public scrutiny.  We explore this continuing secrecy through summarising a recent effort by researcher and author Clinton Fernandes to access some restricted 1981-1982 documents.

naa-parts2021red

On 2 April 2014, the President of Australia’s Administrative Appeal Tribunal (AAT) affirmed an earlier National Archives of Australia (NAA) decision to deny Clinton Fernandes access to parts of two Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT) folders about East Timor (pictured above).

In 2012 NAA had examined and released the folders to Fernandes (and to general public access), but denied access to 140 of a total of some 600 pages. These pages were excluded on the grounds that, if public, they could cause damage to Australia’s security, defence or international relations or that they were provided in confidence by another government (see details in Section 33 (1)(a) & (b) of the Archives Act 1983 .

Fernandes sought from NAA a review of that 2012 decision but with little result – so he followed standard procedure by then appealing to the AAT for an independent judgement on access to the excluded pages.

Public and closed hearings on January 30 and February 3 this year finally resulted in the AAT’s written decision of April 2. The decision (see full text) kept all ‘exempt’ material secret except for one line on one page and one paragraph on another page.

The folders
The two folders are part of sequence of folders titled ‘Portuguese Timor – Political – General’. This folder sequence, which dates back to 1946, was created and maintained by DFAT in Canberra.

The two folders in question, ‘parts’ 20 and 21, cover the dates 05 August 1981 to 11 January 1982. Clinton Fernandes sought access to these folders because they cover the period of a late-1981 Indonesian military operation known as Operasi Keamanan.* 

Many of the public documents in these two folders do shed some light on what Australian officials did learn about the 1981 military operation. The material judged to be not secret can be viewed online through NAA – see Part 20 & Part 21.

We can only guess how much more information is in the still-secret pages of the folders – at least some of which came from the USA government or Australia’s intelligence coordinating body, the Office of National Assessments (ONA).

Government barrier to fair process
Fernandes’ appeal to the AAT was made more difficult by an action of the Australian government. In January, Attorney-General George Brandis issued a so-called ‘public interest certificate’ which required secrecy for official written evidence and verbal testimony to the AAT. The AAT President hearing the case acknowledged the disadvantage to Fernandes – the certificate meant his representative could neither see nor cross-examine the evidence put to the Tribunal.

A further consequence of the certificate was that the reasoning behind the Tribunal’s final decisions were also to be kept secret – leaving Fernandes with little grounds to challenge the decisions.

The decision – key points
Much of the text of the formal AAT decision is details on the procedures and legal context of the decision-making process. The substantial elements of the decision were:

1. With the exception of ten pages (‘folios’), the AAT affirmed the original NAA decision to deny access to the large number of ‘exempt’ pages. (Decision paragraph 62)

2. After further evidence from the Inspector-General of Intelligence & Security (IGIS) on these ten pages, the AAT decided that only parts of two of the pages could be released (paras. 62-64).**

Why the continued secrecy?
The AAT decision text implies that documents cannot be exempted from access on the grounds of “mere embarrassment” or exposure of Australia or Indonesia to public discussion and criticism (see para 34).

We know some documents from the USA remain secret because the US has asked Australia to keep them so. That is the law (Archives Act 33(1)(b) – so that decision is not surprising. But we do not know why the US wants the material kept secret.

All but a fragment of the documents remain secret because the Tribunal was persuaded by government claims their release will damage some or all of Australia’s defence, security or international relations. But the ways in which specific documents might cause such damage is not revealed.

Only minor clues to Australian government thinking on this can be found in the decision text.

Public evidence from ONA claimed disclosure of its material would be seen by other (hostile ?) parties or could damage relationships with ‘international partner agencies’ which, in turn could damage the broader security/defence relationships (paras 55-56). This is the standard general case made against release of any intelligence agency material and is not a revelation.

The same ONA official also referred to current tensions between Australia and Indonesia as a factor – implying that anything which might exacerbate the tensions was against Australia’s interests (para 57). Again, these are standard arguments which have been asserted by successive Australian administrations for decades.

Comment
We can only speculate on the specific reasons for the continued need to keep secret 30-year-old archives about Timor. Readers are invited to add their own thoughts by way of ‘Comments’.

The most likely reasons are to do with developing and maintaining Australia-US-Indonesia security and intelligence relationships – but beyond that, who knows? Another possibility is that some of the exempt information reveals high quality information about Indonesian military activities in 1981 and/or points the finger at the role of particular Indonesian military individuals still in service or public life.

Whatever the reasons, the Australian government and its agencies are strongly protecting some information from public access. So concerned with continuing the secrecy, the Australian government has flagged it is considering an appeal to the Federal Court against the AAT decision to release those tiny fragments on two pages. (See: Paragraph 6 part 4 of this subsequent April 8 decision of the AAT).

One partial solution to this overall problem may lie with Indonesian and US citizens pressing their own governments to release their still-secret official records on East Timor.

 – – – – – – – – – – –

* The operation was notable for its use of a ‘fence of legs’ (pagar betis) tactic in which large numbers of Timorese civilians were conscripted to assist Indonesia forces to sweep through the territory to capture the Fretilin-led resistance. There were fears at the time that this forced conscription could lead to serious food shortages in rural Timor. This operation also resulted in thousands of East Timorese being incarcerated on Atauro Island.

** Parts to be released: The first line of the hand-written text on Part 21, folio 130 and the first paragraph of Part 21, folio 133.

 


March 24: International Day for the Right to the Truth

24 March 2014

CHART co-founder and board member, Pat Walsh, draws attention to this relatively new official United Nations marker – the International Day for the Right to the Truth.

UN-right-to-truth-banner

Given the official thrashing meted out to whistleblowers like Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, many may be surprised to know that the international community believes in a right to the truth (albeit related to human rights violations) and wants the right promoted and upheld!

As enunciated by the UN, the right applies specifically to victims of human rights violations and their tormentors. It entitles victims or their families and representatives to seek, receive and impart information on their case. Equally, it obliges governments and their agencies – prisons, police, military, hospitals and so on – to preserve and provide access to the relevant files in their possession. The initiative has particular relevance to East Timorese and Indonesian victims and their respective governments.

The UN has dedicated March 24 each year to draw the attention of both victims and governments to the right and its practical implications for both. March 24 is the day Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated in El Salvador in 1980 for speaking the truth.

CHART welcomes the UN’s initiative. It underlines the importance of archives. We also hope that March 24 will spur Timor-Leste to consider the implementation of the 17 recommendations* in the CAVR Chega! report that relate to human rights archives – something CHART is able and willing to help with.

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* Chega! recommendations on archives: In summary, CAVR called on corporations and governments to contribute funding and documentation to assist Timor-Leste to re-build its patrimony. Governments such as Portugal and Indonesia and the Vatican, UN, Indonesian Human Rights Commission and Courts are asked to preserve and make accessible their records on Timor-Leste. More specifically, Indonesia is asked to make available its records on the war in Timor-Leste and the Comarca Balide. Timor-Leste is asked to enact general archival legislation and to convert the Comarca into a human rights and archival centre.

More information:
Official United Nations webpage

The Right to the Truth. Pat Walsh, 15 March 2011

Victims’ Right to the Truth. Pat Walsh, 24 March 2013

Chega! report recommendations


Timorese Resistance Archive: New online version

1 October 2013

The rich document collection of Timor-Leste’s Resistance Archive and Museum has been available for several years. We explore a new and improved online access facility for the digitised parts of the collection.

Portugal’s Mario Soares Foundation (FMS) has been a principal contributor to the program to secure the Timor-based archives of the East Timorese political and armed resistance. In particular, the FMS has been responsible for professionally conserving and digitising a huge volume of resistance and related documents.

Since 2005, FMS has delivered the digital files through the website of the Arkivu & Muzeu Rezisténsia Timorense (AMRT) in Dili. CHART reviewed the second of these delivery systems in 2010 (see here). The third version of the digital library, available through a distinct website developed by FMS, offers some definite improvements over the earlier versions.

casa-comum-sample1

Document images from the new Casa Comum digital archive

The new website, Casa Comum, (literally, common home or house) provides access to archival records from a range of institutions across the Portuguese speaking world. The AMRT archive is just one of over seventy archival collections now available.

Improved search options

Digital folders for browsing

Digital folders for browsing

Access to the Timor collection is still possible by browsing digital folders arranged by year (see graphic at right; numbers indicate how many documents in each ‘folder’).  The major improvement comes with the introduction of an advanced search screen (pesquisa avançada).

The advanced search screen helps find documents by title, year, content summary (Assunto), registration number (Pasta), notes (Observações) and original document source/owner (Fundo).

The latter now makes it possible to see something of the context of individual documents. We can see, for example, which items were originally in the hands of Jose Ramos-Horta or view the huge collection of Konis Santana.

The advanced screen also allows restricting a search to a particular range of dates and introduces so-called ‘boolean operators’ (and, or, not) to further control the search results.

Comment
The new online facility is a welcome access enhancement to the AMRT’s important collection. Along with the relatively new CIDAC online archive, researchers have easy access to a very large and growing collection of Timor-related materials.

While CHART can envisage even more enhancements to each of these online resources, we are in awe of the work done to create them. We strongly encourage anyone with Timor archival, research and history interests to use these resources.

NOTE
CHART is grateful to Luis Pinto for drawing our attention to the new facility and to FMS’s Alfredo Caldeira for his demonstration of the database in Lisbon in August.  More on the latter in a forthcoming Timor Archives article.


Herb Feith Foundation digitisation grant

25 September 2013

CHART is delighted to announce the receipt of a significant grant to digitise an important Timor archival collection.

The Herb Feith Foundation (HFF) grant of $24,400 will be used to begin an extensive digitisation of the Human Rights Office collection of the Australian Council for Overseas Aid (ACFOA, now ACFID). The collection, recording the work of Pat Walsh and associates from 1979-2000, is among the highest-ranking Timor archival collections still in private hands anywhere.

The most recent CHART guide to the collection contents can be found here.

Digitisation for Timor
The ultimate focus of the project is to make the digital copies available for East Timorese access through institutions in Timor Leste. The bulk of the grant will be used to train and pay assistants to conduct the scanning work. CHART hopes to engage, on a part-time basis, East Timorese students in Melbourne to do this work.

Smaller elements of the grant include equipment and software purchases as well as translation of key documents into Tetun and development of a Tetun-language version of the CHART website.

Herb Feith (second from right) with Jose Ramos-Horta and Australian Timor solidarity activists, c.1984. [Photo: Ian Bell]

Herb Feith (second from right) with Jose Ramos-Horta and Australian Timor solidarity activists, c.1984. [Photo: Ian Bell]

Herb Feith Foundation
Based at Monash University, the HFF was established in honour of the late Herb Feith (1930-2001). Herb was an internationally-recognised expert on Indonesia and one of very few Australian academics to work for justice for East Timor under Indonesian military occupation. More information on Herb’s life and work can be found here.

The Foundation funds a range of activities. A notable project with Timor parallels is the translation into English of Indonesian-language accounts of mass violence in Indonesia associated with General Suharto’s rise to power in 1965-66.


Max Stahl Video Archive: Holdings listed

31 October 2011

CHART is pleased to publish here the first comprehensive listings of the collection of the Centro Audiovisual Max Stahl Timor-Leste (CAMSTL) in Dili. These listings were created by CHART from CAMSTL data provided by the Centre’s founder, Max Stahl.

Max Stahl explains archive program to CHART's Cecily Gilbert, July 2011

Max Stahl needs no introduction. His stunning footage of the 1991 Santa Cruz massacre in Dili played a central role in strongly increasing international opinion against the Indonesian military occupation of East Timor.

Less well-known is the extensive holdings of the video archive Max has established in Timor-Leste over the past decade – the Centro Audiovisual Max Stahl Timor-Leste (CAMSTL).

Today’s events, tomorrow’s archives
Stahl’s 1990s raw footage and production pieces on military occupation and resistance are only part of the total collection at now at CAMSTL. He and a team of East Timorese are creating an audiovisual record of the first years of newly independent Timor-Leste. The archive holds significant footage on developments in the territory while under United Nations administration until 2002. Since then, a large amount of material has been recorded – covering historical interviews and present day economic, social, political and other institutional events and developments in Timor-Leste.

In addition to filming these subjects, the CAMSTL team has developed hundreds of detailed summaries and transcripts of the material and a growing number of formal production titles in local languages. Such material will prove invaluable to future generations of East Timorese, including its educators and historians to come.

Footage Lists
Raw video footage lists are presented here by year of video creation. Click on year to see relevant list.

1991 1993-98 1999 2000 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 (part year)

Transcripts
A small sample of available transcripts is provided below.
1991. Interview with David Alex, FALINTIL
1991. Santa Cruz Massacre
1999. Refugees in Atapupu, Alor and Atauro
2002. Interview with Padre Domingos Soares
2006. Scenes from the developing political crisis
2008. Xanana Gusmao declares ‘State of Seige’ (after Horta shooting).

CHART will add significant numbers of these transcripts in coming months. They will be found on CHART’s dedicated CAMSTL web page.


1992 Xanana capture: Indonesian records

23 May 2011

Xanana Gusmao moments after his capture. Dili, 20 November 1992

Indonesian video footage of the 1992 capture of East Timorese resistance leader Xanana Gusmao is the tip of an iceberg of still-secret Indonesian records about its military invasion and occupation of East Timor.

Aired on Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service program, Dateline, on 22 May 2011, the footage shows Indonesian preparations for the raid on a house in Dili where Xanana was known to be hiding, the armed raid and arrest and parts of a later exchange between Xanana and the head of the Indonesian military, General Try Sutrisno, who flew to Dili on news of the capture. The footage also shows Xanana’s belongings – including weapons and documents.

Questions arising
Several obvious questions arise from viewing this footage: What was the origin of the footage used by SBS and is other material available from that source; will this material be made available to East Timorese institutions for long-term preservation and access; given the relatively poor quality of the footage, does a better master exist; are the documents and weapons captured with Xanana still kept in Indonesia and if so, will they ever be repatriated to East Timor?

Xanana interrogation in Bali – more detail
A further pointer to Indonesian records of the Xanana capture can be found in a 2007 account of Xanana’s interrogation in Bali just days after his arrest in Dili.

Xanana with his interrogator, Lieut-Col. Nurhana, Bali, 1992

Nurhana Tirtaamijaya, an Indonesian military police commander in 1992 and Xanana’s principal interrogator, published in 2007 a personal account of his encounters with the prized political prisoner. Pak Nurhana’s account, while emphasising his claimed ‘victory’ over Xanana, also gives some insight into the sequence of events between the resistance leader’s arrest and his incarceration in Cipinang Prison.

Australian researcher Ernie Chamberlain has translated the Nurhana text. A small selection of images from the interrogation, including captions identifying participants, can be found on Nurhana’s website (scroll through images). See also:
Xanana & Nurhana : Xanana writing : Xanana with laughing interrogators : Xanana laughing

Tapping into Indonesian records
Pak Nurhana says the story he tells was once a State top secret. Hopefully, his preparedness to tell his story publicly means other knowledgeable Indonesians may be prepared to also release their Timor information.

The task of seeking, finding and securing primary records of Indonesia’s East Timor history is large and urgent. We hope this task will be taken up by the people who can best do this – interested and concerned Indonesians.

Sources
Thanks to Ernie Chamberlain for drawing my attention to the Nurhana article and, especially, for his translation.

Thanks to Sara Niner for the use of her Xanana capture image – taken from her blog item on the topic.

Nurhana Tirtaamijaya website