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Hundreds demonstrate at Semarang trial

Bernas - April 16, 1998 (summary from Tapol)

Hundreds of East Timorese students demonstrated at the Semarang district court as the trial of four East Timorese was underway. They demanded that the four men be freed.

For the second time running, the prosecutor was unable to present Constancio da Costa as a witness to testify at the trial. He said this was for security reasons and in consideration of the costs.

The four men are on trial for being in possession of explosives some time between December 1996 and December 1997 and for receiving , possessing and concealing equipment which constituts a danger to the public.

When the four men alighted from the vehicle bringing them to court, they were surrounded and embraced by hundreds of young East Timorese who had been waiting since early morning. They were carrying banners which read: We are not terrorists, Free the courts from intervention, We support the pro-democracy activists, an so on. There were dozens of security forces on guard.

At the end of the hearing, they held another demonstration inside the court but were ordered out of the courtroom after five minutes. They continued to demonstrate outside the court. The event ended peacefully after they were allowed to read out their demands.

The head of the team of defence lawyers, Sugeng Santoso of the PBHI (Legal Aid and Human Rights Association) later told the press of his disappointment at the failure of the prosecutor to bring the witness, Constancio, from Dili. He said that for the prosecutor to say that this key witness could not be brought because of the costs was illogical. 'If the state cant afford to bring him, the PBHI is will to pay for the trip including the cost of his escort. We are prepared to do this in the interests of getting at the truth.'

The four on trial in Semarang have been charged because of a statement made by Constancio when he was interrogated by the police in East Timor on 1 November 1997. However, Constancio issued a statement on 27 March withdrawing his earlier statement, saying that it had been made under duress.