The East Timor Human Rights Centre (ETHRC) holds grave fears for the safety of eight East Timorese students, who sustained serious gunshot wounds during a confrontation with Indonesian security forces, at the University of East Timor in Dili, on the morning of 14 November, 1997.
The eight students, Antonio Viegas, Albano Barreto, Natalina Duarte de Araujo, Adolfo da Costa, Joaquim Matatai, Abrao do Nascimento, Bendito Simao and Orlando (no surname) are currently in custody at the military hospital at Wirahusada, Dili. Indonesian authorities have admitted that some arrests have been made and it is believed that up to 10 to 15 students were driven away by the Indonesian police for questioning at either POLDA (local police station) or POLRES (Regional police) headquarters. However, their whereabouts is still unconfirmed, despite internal steps taken to locate them.
According to ETHRC sources, the confrontation between the students and Indonesian security forces is believed to have started when an argument broke out on campus between students and two plain clothes members of the Indonesian military. When faced with the angry students demanding to know their presence at the university, the military men left the campus and returned with members of the BTT (territorial battalion). It is believed the soldiers then opened fire into the crowd of students, seriously injuring several. The soldiers were later joined by members of battalion 744 and Indonesian police, who claimed to have fired shots into the air to disperse the crowd. In addition to receiving gunshot wounds, reliable sources also reported that several of the wounded students were brutally beaten and tortured with rifle butts and bayonets.
According to Amnesty International, one student who sustained a serious gunshot wound to the neck was forcibly removed from an ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) vehicle and severely beaten by the police. An ETHRC source reported that Abrao do Nascimento and Bendito Simao who received serious gunshot and knife wounds to their arms and faces, were forced to remain handcuffed while being driven by the military to the hospital. There have been reports that at least one of the wounded students has since died, however the ETHRC has not been able to confirm this. Sources in East Timor reported that the military authorities had prevented representatives of the ICRC and other humanitarian organisations from entering the university to give assistance to the wounded. According to Agence France Press, the ICRC has since been allowed access to some of the wounded at the hospital. The report dated 15 November, quoted the Head of the ICRC Indonesian delegation, Henry Fournier, as stating that "five civilianswere visited". However, the ETHRC remains concerned about the other wounded students, as it would appear that they have not been allowed access to humanitarian assistance. The ETHRC is concerned for the safety of all the students taken into custody, in particular for the eight wounded students at the military hospital as some of the wounded were mistreated by the military on their way to the hospital. Detainees in East Timor are routinely subjected to torture and ill-treatment while in military or police custody and the risk of torture and ill-treatment is heightened, especially when the detainees are denied access to their families and independent legal counsel.