A renowned Sri Lankan Catholic journalist and social activist has received a prestigious award from the Timor-Leste government in recognition of his unwavering commitment to the country's struggle for independence from Indonesia.
The Order of Timor-Leste was presented to Freddy Gamage by President Ramos Horta at a ceremony in the capital, Dili, on Nov. 27, the day before the country celebrated 48 years since its 1975 declaration of independence from Portugal, before being annexed by Indonesia a year later.
Gamage played an important role in advocating for Timor Leste's independence, campaigning globally, including in his home country of Sri Lanka.
He told UCA News on Nov. 27 that he became involved in Timor-Leste's independence struggle when he sought asylum in the Philippines in 1989-1992 after receiving threats to his life.
At the time he was working with the Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID), a Philippines-based advocacy group working on the Timor-Leste issue. "That's how I got to know more about the Timorese struggle," he said.
He said that because of his activism, he was deported twice from the Philippines, including in 1994, when he returned to the country to attend an IID conference.
At that time, he said, while the authorities and officials were preparing his deportation documents he spoke for 4-5 minutes in Tagalog and English about supporting Timor-Leste's independence.
"I thought this was my duty for the struggling people of Timor-Leste."
When he returned to Sri Lanka in 1994, Gamage then formed Friends of the Third World and started to campaign for Timor-Leste, by holding at least two protests every year.
Talking about his award and the people's struggle, he said he was very happy because Timor-Leste won independence in 2002 "and also recognized us as friends who supported their struggle."
"I'm really happy today because this is a long-awaited dream and it's come through finally," he said.
Ato Lekinawa Costa, co-founder of the Association Journalist of Timor-Leste said giving awards to people like Gamage was "an obligation of the state."
"Hopefully other friends from around the world will also be rewarded like him," he told UCA News.
"The work of Freddy Gamage and other journalist friends put the conflict in Timor-Leste on the international stage. And that really helped Timor-Leste's diplomatic struggle," he said.
Costa said he hopes such solidarity from Gamage and other friends "can continue to be practiced by fellow journalists in Timor-Leste to teach young people that supporting the struggle of oppressed people goes beyond borders."
Gamage is currently the editor of the regional news publication Meepuraa and chairman of the Professional Web Journalists Association, which is actively involved in promoting human rights in Sri Lanka.
Gamage is also the convener of the Action Committee for Media Freedom, a platform for journalist organizations from the northern, eastern, and southern parts of Sri Lanka.
He has been physically attacked and threatened in the past, most notably in 2016 after he attended a monthly meeting of the Negombo Municipal Council. He was attacked and seriously injured while walking to his car by two people who arrived on motorbikes.