Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) protested at the East Timor government’s expulsion of Australian freelance journalist Julian King even though a court in Dili had cleared him of charges brought by the police.
King was deported to Australia on 28 June on the orders of the interior ministry - the first major violation of press freedom since East Timor gained its independence in 2002.
The appeal court had ordered the return of King’s passport, refused to remand him in custody and ruled that the police did not have sufficient evidence against him. King had been accused of "subversive" activities.
The only established wrong committed by King was that he upset the government of Mari Alkatiri, said the international press freedom organisation, expressing dismay that the authorities had not respected the East Timor court ruling that King was not guilty.
This contempt for the courts did nothing to enhance the standing of the country’s first democratic government, it said. Reporters Without Borders has written to President Xanana Gusmao asking him to intervene to allow the journalist to return.
On arrival the same evening in Darwin, northern Australia, King said that he would appeal to the East Timor Supreme Court. His Timorese lawyer, Pedro de Oliveira, said the expulsion flew in the face of the evidence. He told the Associated Press, "The government is trying to cover up the fact that it lost this case before the court. This means that the government is stronger than the court."
The authorities in Dili have so far refused to confirm that King has been expelled. Despite some officials have been engaged on a campaign to discredit King who has lived in East Timor for more than four years.
The Prime Minister, Mari Alkatiri, had successively accused King of taking part in the torching of his house and of destabilising government institutions. Foreign minister José Ramos-Horta accused Reporters Without Borders of being a "racist" organisation for defending King.
The government has also tried to cast doubt on King’s journalist credentials. However, Reporters Without Borders has been able to check with Australian radio stations 2SERFM, 3CRFM and 4ZZZFM and the Australian Television News Agency that King did indeed work for them in East Timor.
King, also a PhD student, was one of very few foreign journalists to speak the official language Tetun, which made it possible for him to closely follow political events in the country. He was arrested on 5 May 2004 close to his Dili home. Police offices, including a former member of the Indonesian military, had planted munitions in his bedroom and seized a number of files particularly on corruption and about the Timor Gap agreement that allows Australia to exploit a significant part of the Timor Sea’s gas and oil reserves.