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East Timor 10 May 2004

Australian journalist arrested and threatened with expulsion


A court in Dili confirmed the release of Julian King on 14 May, even though the prosecutor had said the investigation called for him to be held in custody for another month. The Australian journalist will have to report twice a week to a police station in Dili. King told Reporters Without Borders that witnesses had seen a police officer taking ammunition from his pocket to put in the journalist’s bedroom. The highest authorities, including the Minister of foreign affairs, Ramos Horta, continue to accuse King of "subversion". At a press conference on 14 May, police displayed boxes of ammunition, a bomb detector and classified documents which they said had been seized from the journalist’s home. "The hardware discovered in the house, after a search authorised by a judge, does not indicate the work of a journalist. Julian King is neither a journalist, nor an investigator as he claims," Ramos Horta said. He also accused Reporters Without Borders of telling "lies" to protect King.

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) expressed concern about the arrest and detention for two days of Australian investigative journalist Julian King, who has been threatened with legal action and expulsion.

(JPEG) King’s arrest in the capital Dili was the first major violation of press freedom since East Timor gained its independent in 2002, the international press freedom organisation said.

Police arrested the freelance journalist on 6 May close to his home in the capital. He was held for two days in the central police station. Police said they had found ammunitions at his house.

During a search they seized files, including a UN report on corruption in East Timor. The journalist was at first told his residency papers were not in order and was then threatened with legal action for "possessing weapons" and "subversion".

Prime minister Mari Alkatiri made several public statements against the journalist. "He is abusing our tolerance, he is not a journalist and he has his own agenda to subvert state institutions," he said. He also accusing King of taking part in torching his home during December 2002 rioting.

"It is a real disappointment for our organisation to see the prime minister of a country - held up for several years as a model in Asia of respect for press freedom - accusing a foreign journalist of rioting and destabilisation," Reporters Without Borders said in a letter to President Xanana Gusmao. It urged him to intervene on behalf of the journalist and to call on the prime minister to respect press freedom.

King, 43, a former Reuters correspondent who works regularly for Australian television channels, denied all the accusations. "I certainly don’t own any bullets and I am certainly not out to destabilise the government," he said.

King has worked in East Timor for four years and has been a long-term activist for the country’s independence.

Several sources told Reporters Without Borders that King’s arrest and serious accusations against him by the prime minister could be linked to his investigations into negotiations with Australia on sharing East Timor’s territorial waters. The "Timor Gap" agreement allows Australia to exploit a major part of the area’s oil and gas reserves. Many people within East Timor objected to the agreement, which was reportedly tainted by corruption. President Gusmao himself has said he considered the contract a threat to East Timor’s existence.

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