Balibo: The Film and the Reality
- Interview/Ex-Kopassus Officer Gatot Purwanto: It was a
- Editorial: Balibo 1975
- Balibo’s No Show [The Indonesian Film Censorship Board
banned the screening of the film Balibo at the 11th Jakarta
International Film Festival, reasoning that the film might
reopen old wounds.]
December 08-14, 2009
Balibo: The Film and the Reality
The ban on screening Balibo recalls the 1975 deaths of five
foreign journalists in East Timor. One witness of this incident,
a former intelligence officer, believes the element of
dramatization is inevitable, resulting in a fictional film
featuring images of a brutal military.
FEW people recognized the small, 62-year-old man wearing a
faded blue T-shirt over black denims, his face lined with the
beginnings of wrinkles, his thinning hair turning grey. He sat
relaxed with his legs stretched out in a corner of the Utan Kayu
theater in East Jakarta, on Thursday a week ago, waiting for the
screening of the film Balibo, which tells the story of five
Australian journalists killed in East Timor in October 1975.
The man is Colonel (ret) Gatot Purwanto, a former army
intelligence officer, who served quite some time in East Timor
(now Timor Leste). His last position was Assistant Intelligence
Officer of Command Operations in East Timor. He was discharged
following the Santa Cruz incident in Dili, which erupted in
November 1991. That evening, he toldTempo that his colleagues
had warned him about watching Balibo. “Why should a witness
watch a film about something he personally experienced?” they
In fact, Gatot was at Balibo 34 years ago. Under the code name
Team Susi, he and dozens of Indonesian troops crossed the East
Timor border in preparation of Indonesia’s invasion into the
former Portuguese colony. “I was a first lieutenant at the time,
just three years out of officer training school,” he recalled.
The team commander was Major-General (ret) Yunus Yosfiah. “We
were assisting partisans of UDT and Apodeti,” he said. UDT and
Apodeti were two political parties in Timor who at the time were
pro-Indonesia. About 100 pro-integration militia members had
When the film began, Gatot quickly recognized locations used as
settings for the film. “That building used to be the Finance
Department” he said of the opening scene. Gatot, who is fluent
in Tetum, could understand the dialog in this local Timorese
language. He immediately began shaking his head when the film
depicted a scene about Fretilin ideology, the leftist party
fighting for an independent Timor. “They were communists,” he
said with certainty. In the scene, where the lead actor is shot
in the forest by an Indonesian helicopter, Gatot also shook his
head murmuring, “That’s not true.”
But, when the film moved into the main scene with the killing of
the five Australian journalists, Gatot stared with his mouth
open. He sat motionless with his eyes glued to the screen. When
the scene changed to the story of what followed the shooting, he
sat looking surprised and speechless for a long time. Only when
Tempo asked him if his memories of the time were similar to the
way the incident was portrayed in the film, Gatot turned and
replied, “No, no, it wasn’t like that.” He took in a deep
breath, whispering softly, “Not exactly like that.”
* * *
IT is a pity that Gatot Purwanto and Greg Shackleton never met,
considering they have more in common than the first letters of
their first names. They were both 27 years old in 1975, when
their fates led them both to Balibo.
Balibo is a small town in Bobonaro district. The distance to the
border with West Timor is only about 10 kilometers. The remains
of a 400-year-old Portuguese fort still stand on a hill facing
the beach. Gatot admits that his forces captured and shot
Shackleton and his four colleagues: sound man Australian Tony
Stewart, 21, Gary Cunningham, 27, from New Zealand from Channel
7, British nationals Brian Peters, 29 and Malcolm Rennie, 28,
from Channel 9.
The film Balibo, according to Gatot is overdramatized. Even
though he later admitted that the troops did try to hide the
bodies of these journalists by covering them up with dry rice
husks so they would burn slowly. “Until the bodies were
completely destroyed; it took two days,” he explained.
Balibo shows the political escalation heating up near the time
of the invasion and the moments of the five journalists’ deaths.
The director and scriptwriter is the Australian cinematographer,
Robert Connolly. Originally the film was to be shown at the
Jakarta International Film Festival last week. But the Film
Censorship Board (LSF) banned it. The reason given by Mukhlis
Paeni, Director of LSF, was that, “it has the potential to open
an old wound.”
That “old wound” did not come from the south. The Balibo
incident had been diplomatically bandied back and forth, between
Jakarta and Canberra. Yet, the two countries have come to an
agreement. The Australian government accepts the version of the
Indonesian government stating that the five men died in
cross-fire. “This film does not express the opinion of the
Australian government,” said Jenny Dee, press attaché for the
Australian embassy in Jakarta.
Those who disagree with the Indonesian government’s version are
the families and friends of the slain journalists, and human
rights activists in Australia, who are demanding justice. They
believe the five journalists were executed by the Indonesian
Military (TNI), like Roger East, another Australian journalist
who was lost and presumed to be shot dead on the first day of
the invasion of Dili harbor on December 7, 1975. They want the
perpetrators brought to court. For 34 years this case had
surfaced and resurfaced in Australian politics. Those concerned
about human rights kept charging that both the Labor Party as
well as the Conservative Party supported the invasion—as did the
United States and the United Kingdom—to prevent the spread of
The “old wound” Muklis may be referring to could be the public
at home. Many scenes in the film bring back memories of human
rights abuses carried out by the military in the not-so-distant
past. The familiar icons are disturbing: red berets, camouflage
uniforms, AK-47s, as well as the actors playing the roles of
familiar military figures like Benny Moerdani and Colonel Dading
Kalbuadi (both of whom have died). What is frightening is the
action depicted in the film: groups of civilians being shot at,
public executions, and the faces of women and children crying in
* * *
THE LSF invited Sutiyoso to view Balibo, two days after the ban,
when they had difficulty contacting Yunus. The former Governor
of Jakarta, Sutiyoso, was a Special Forces soldier in the same
operation as Gatot. According to Sutiyoso, the intelligence
operation called Flamboyan was aimed at assisting the
pro-integration militia to clear the area of “enemies,” or the
Fretilin militia. “This was like entering a lion’s den, a
one-way ticket operation. We didn’t even get to say goodbye to
our families,” he told Tempo, one Saturday morning.
To support the operation, the forces formed three teams, each
with about 50 Special Forces troops. The 1965 Group led the
operation, the second in command came from the 1968 group. The
three teams were given women’s names: Susi, Tuti, and Umi.
Sutiyoso confirmed that Yunus Yosfiah, a major at the time, led
Team Susi. His second in command was Sunarto. Team Tuti was led
by Major Tarub with Agus Salim Lubis as his second in command.
Sunarto and Agus Salim have both passed away. Team Umi was led
by Major Sofyan Effendi with Sutiyoso as his second in command.
“Gatot was in Team Susi,” he recalled.
With the command center in Motaain, they went back and forth to
the border areas. They all wore civilian clothing, their hair
long, with tight shirts in the style of the time over
wide-legged or denim pants. Dading, the leader of the operation
(in the film he is seen as the first one to pull the trigger in
the shooting that killed the journalists), is shown wearing a
scarf around his neck and a cowboy hat. Everyone had a code
name. “My name was Captain Manix, like in the film,” laughed
Team Umi then seized Batugade in a shootout with a Fretilin
ship. But unlike usual procedures, the commander, Major-General
Benny Moerdani told them to remain in the beach town about 40
kilometers from Motaain. “This was strange. It was unusual for
the intelligence forces to do this. Our specialty was hit and
run,” he said, “It was difficult for us to hold the area,
because we were armed only with assault weapons. A month later,
he heard that Team Susi had moved to Balibo and Team Tuti to
“The shooting of the journalists occurred when Team Susi
arrived,” says Sutiyoso. At that time, communication was not
easy, but members of the same team visited each other. So
everyone there heard the news of the five journalists’ death.
“In that battle, no one knew anyone, whether they were
foreigners or Javanese. It was only kill or be killed,” he said.
From his side, the director of Balibo, Roger Connolly, used the
services of historian, Dr Clinton Fernandez from the Australian
Military Academy at the University of New South Wales to give
guidance on the historical context, as well as from a pile of
documents from East Timor, Australia, England, the US and even
Portugal (none from Indonesia). Fernandez concluded that “the
Indonesian Military were involved in efforts to terrorize and
destabilize which were later blamed on pro-independence groups.
After that, they just had to come in to maintain order,” he said
on the official site for the film Balibo.
The sources that Connolly used to describe the moments of the
siege and capture of Balibo come from the prosecutor’s
investigation of the court in New South Wales in February 2007.
Downloadable from the Internet, there are more than half a dozen
witnesses describing what they saw in detail, including the role
Yunus played in the fate of the five journalists. Yunus, when
contacted by Tempo, was not willing to update his previous
statements. Through a text message from his son’s cellphone he
replied, asking what would happen if a national leader were to
be tyrannized by another nation. “If the question is the same,
Pak Yunus’ answer is still the same.” This former Information
Minister (1999) has repeatedly said that he was not involved in
According to that report, only one or two of the Fretilin
militia were killed in the shootout at Balibo, the same number
as the victims of the pro-integration side. What caused a lot of
talk from the day of the incident were the deaths of the
journalists, the main theme of the Balibo film.
This testimony is very different from what was recorded by TVRI
journalist, Hendro Subroto, who arrived at the scene a few hours
after the incident. According to Hendro in his book, Eyewitness
to the Integration of East Timor, 17 people died in the battle
of Balibo. The burnt corpses of 15 of them were found at the
Fretilin headquarters, which was bombed by mortar fire. “Four of
the 15 were foreigners. Two more bodies were found in the
forest, one of whom was a foreigner,” he wrote, based on a joint
report by the pro-integration militia. Interestingly, the
witness who said there were 17 victims is the same witness who
testified in the Australian court. But he admitted to lying and
giving a false statement, which he later withdrew.
Then there is the fictional “aspect” of the film. Admittedly,
Balibo does contain a few fabrications. Let us not forget that
Balibo is not a documentary. The film is not free of fictional
scenes. It includes many imaginary figures and incidents, such
as the character of Juliana, taken from the testimonies of East
Timorese about human rights abuses on the first day of the
invasion. There is also the matter of the fight between Roger
East and Ramos Horta at a swimming pool which never took place.
However, the LSF had no problem over the details of whether this
film was close to reality or not. What is important, said the
director of the Evaluation and Socialization Commission,
Djamalul Abidin, is that the LSF has the mandate to apply
censorship on political or ideological grounds. In other words,
it is not necessary to cut the sadistic parts, but in the name
of politics and ideology, the entire film can be thrown out.
Take Sutiyoso, who firmly disapproves of screening this film
because it degrades the TNI. “The TNI is not like that. TNI
follows the principles of Pancasila,” he said.
The question is when: In the film or in reality?
-- Kurie Suditomo, Wahyu Dhyatmika, Nieke Indrietta, Martha
Warta Silaban, Sutarto, Suryani Ika Sari (Jakarta)
December 08-14, 2009
Interview/Ex-Kopassus Officer Gatot Purwanto:
It was a difficult situation
THE Timor Leste (formerly East Timor) story and that of Col.
(ret) Gatot Purwanto, 62, are intertwined. This former Special
Forces (Kopassus) officer can be said to have witnessed all of
the bloody incidents that happened in Indonesia’s former 27th
province. In fact, Gatot was involved in East Timor since the
beginning of his military career. Tragically, it was also there
that his vocation ended.
Just before Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor in 1975, Gatot
would go in and out of this former Portuguese colony, disguised
as a trader. His good looks, neat appearance and sociable manner
made it easy for him to move around. “I was known as Aseng over
there,” he said laughingly, recalling how people often mistook
him for an ethnic Chinese.
Inside Timor, his job was to contact local opposition
politicians and gather intelligence. He was the only Indonesian
officer who was able to penetrate the Fretilin hideout in the
jungle, and speak directly to their rebel chief, Xanana Gusmao.
However, the November 12, 1991 Santa Cruz incident ended his
bright career. As the assistant commander for intelligence in
East Timor, he was responsible for failing to anticipate the
demonstration that became violent. The Indonesian Military (TNI)
was accused of shooting at the people, killing more than 100.
Gatot was discharged from the military.
One bloody incident he remembers well is the attack at Balibo.
Gatot, who was then a first lieutenant, witnessed how five
Australia-based journalists from Channel 7 and Channel 9—Greg
Shackleton, Tony Stewart, Gary Cunningham, Brian Peters and
Malcolm Rennie—were captured and shot.
The five journalists were in the midst of covering the joint
attack by the UDT and Apodeti groups—two rival groups of the
Fretilin at the time—into Balibo in October 1975, supported by
the Indonesian Army. “It seems to have been my fate to be
involved in bloody incidents in East Timor,” lamented Gatot.
Last week, following the screening of the film Balibo, produced
by Robert Connolly, at the Utan Kayu Theater in East Jakarta,
Gatot described his version of the incident depicted in the
controversial film to Tempo reporters Arif Zulkifli, Wahyu
Dyatmika, Sunudyantoro, Yophiandi and Agus Supriyanto.
You were in Balibo when the five journalists were shot. What
The battle was not over at the time. The fighting had eased, but
shots could still be heard. At the edge of Balibo town, near the
church on the hill, there were buildings. We shot in that
direction because we heard shots coming from there. When we
approached the buildings, we saw the five journalists inside.
They were captured and they were still alive.
So what did the troops do?
I was still on lower ground, near Pak Yunus (retired Maj. Gen.
Yunus Yosfiah, who at the time was the team commander with the
rank of captain—Ed.). We received a report that foreigners had
been caught. Pak Yunus ordered me to report them to Pak Dading
(retired Lt. Gen. Dading Kalbuadi, at the time the
commander—Ed.), who was at the border area. If I am not
mistaken, Pak Dading then contacted Jakarta, and asked what they
should do with those people.
So, it is not true that the five journalists were killed in the
crossfire between the TNI and the Fretilin?
When they were first captured, they were still alive. We
surrounded them with our weapons. I saw this at a distance of 30
meters from the lower ground of the hill. They were inside and
they seemed to be filming from the top. There were shots coming
from that direction from time to time, which is why we aimed
there and surrounded the building.
What happened then?
It was a difficult situation. If we captured them, the
Indonesian troops would be implicated. We didn’t know what to do
with them, execute them or what. At that very moment, when our
troops were sitting around, suddenly shots came from the
direction of where the journalists were. Maybe someone was
trying to rescue them, we thought. Our troops ran over there, to
find all five of them dead.
Exactly when did the attack happen?
We entered Balibo just before dawn. But when the incident took
place, it was already daylight, maybe about 10 or 11 in the
When the shooting took place, what were the orders from Yunus
Yosfiah or Dading Kalbuadi?
Nothing yet. From the team leader, Pak Yunus, there were no
orders to kill them or whatever. Pak Dading was still waiting
for instructions from Jakarta. Communications took a long time.
So, the shots happened when we were provoked into shooting at
the place where they were hiding, because shots came from there.
Was there an effort to identify the five journalists? Were they
asked who they were?
No, because none of them spoke Indonesian and none of the troops
But did the troops know they were journalists?
We should have known, because they were carrying cameras and
other equipment. That should have been obvious from those close
to them. The shooting happened from a distance of about 15
Before the troops entered Balibo, did they know there were five
foreign journalists inside the town?
We didn’t know. That’s why we were shocked and confused when
they were captured. We didn’t know what to do with them.
So, what happened after the shooting?
Pak Dading went to the site. A TVRI reporter, Hendro Subroto,
came along. Then Pak Dading spoke with my commander, Pak Yunus.
What was the condition of the troops at the time? Were any of
the troops blamed for acting without orders?
It was a difficult situation for us. If we kept the journalists,
not execute them, when they got out, they would say, “Yes,
that’s right, the Indonesians captured us.” It could be used as
evidence that we were there. So it was a difficult decision to
make. Perhaps, at that time, people at the top thought the
shooting was the best way out. I am not sure. If they were not
executed, they could be witnesses to the fact that the
Indonesian Army had invaded Timor.
So, the shooting was a rational decision?
Yes…but it was provoked by the shooting coming from where they
were. Later, they found a Thompson gun inside the building, next
to them (the five journalists).
What happened after that?
The bodies of the five journalists were taken to the house of a
Chinese in Balibo, about 300 meters from the location of the
shooting, just inside the town. There, the bodies were covered
with rice husks and then burnt.
Why use the rice husks?
Because they take a longer time. They (the bodies) needed to be
totally disintegrated. That took two days. Some wood was also
Why were the bodies torched? Wouldn’t that have shown that the
troops tried to cover the shooting?
Because we were in a bind at the time. We had to make sure that
the involvement of Indonesian troops was not known. That’s why
we didn’t wear uniforms when we attacked, we wore civilian
clothes. You may have heard of the blue jeans brigade. That was
us with long hair.
Who ordered the bodies to be burnt?
Well, there were orders from… (unclear response). I don’t know
exactly, I was just a young officer then. But we were in a
difficult position. If we let them live, they would tell
everyone it was an Indonesian invasion. If they died and we
abandoned them, there would be evidence that they were shot in
territory controlled by Indonesian guerrillas. So, the simple
way was to eliminate everything. We just claimed not to know
anything. It was the instant reaction at the time.
Besides the TNI, who else was in Balibo at the time?
Besides the Susi Team (advance team), the pro-Indonesian forces
of Apodeti and UDT jointly took part in Balibo. There were
Apodeti leader Thomas Gonzalves and UDT leader Joan Tabarez.
There was one unit of our troops against two of theirs. We were
50, they were about 100.
During the invasion, was there support from Indonesian
I think there was. When we entered Balibo, there were shots from
our ships offshore.
Why was Balibo the first target of attack?
Balibo was not the first one. We had advanced quite deeply at
that point, but we were forced to withdraw, running back to
Haikesak (a small village at the Indonesian border), and to
Atambua. After reinforcements came from UDT and Apodeti, we
entered again. The troops had been mobilized and trained since
the end of 1974. At the point, we should have reached Dili,
preparing a dropping zone and other facilities to support the
big invasion, like setting up ammunition dumps in specific areas.
What was the situation in Balibo when you entered it?
Balibo is a small town, with non-descript buildings. There were
five concrete buildings, the biggest owned by a Chinese and
another served as a health center. In areas bordering with
Indonesia, like in Balibo and nearby villages, the population
tended to be supporters of the Apodeti, and more pro-Indonesian.
This was quite different from people on the eastern side, which
could not be accessed by our troops and which were controlled by
When you were assigned in East Timor, you reportedly had close
relations with Xanana Gusmao?
I befriended Xanana after the operation carried out during the
time of Pak Sahala (retired Lt. Gen. Adolf Sahala Rajagukguk,
former Army Deputy Chief of Staff—Ed.) in 1981. After that
operation, the TNI was sure that Fretelin was in disarray,
falling apart. Finally, all Kopassus troops were withdrawn from
Timor, with only two companies—Nanggala 51 and 52—remaining.
After the troops were withdrawn, they consolidated and attacked
us again. I started thinking, if we keep ourselves low all the
time, how can we advance? I finally opened communications with
Xanana. He welcomed it. Maybe Xanana thought some good could
come from it because at that time he was already thinking that
post-war, he could be in politics. That was sometime between
1982 and 1983.
What did Xanana say?
He was very formal at first. We spoke in Tetum. He always
stressed to me: Indonesia will not be able to continue funding
the war in Timor.
Did your good relations continue?
Yes, we have kept in close touch until today. Since the jungle
days, I have been the only Kopassus officer who is able to meet
with him. So today, if Timor needs intelligence equipment, I
help out. Once, Xanana even asked my help to ‘sterilize’ his
office [from wiretaps].
Going back to the Balibo film. What is your impression of it?
From the start until the middle [of the film], it’s quite
balanced. The film also blamed the governments of Australia, the
United States and Britain, which gave their blessings to the
Timor war. But the main incidents, surrounding the shooting of
the five journalists, were over-dramatized. No one was tortured.
The scene depicting the TNI’s entry into Dili was not that
What do you think of demands to expose and try the Balibo
perpetrators in court?
A lot of time has passed, right? The perpetrators are now old
men. We no longer have a problem with Timor Leste.
Were you against the referendum in Timor Leste?
I thought it was a hurried decision.
Do you think the integration of East Timor between 1975-1999
was a wasted effort?
Look. At the time, the communists had gained control in
Portugal. All areas under their control, including colonies they
thought of letting go, were also influenced by communism. So it
was not wrong for Australia and the US to push Indonesia into
taking over. It was the Cold War at that time.
But Indonesia failed to win the people’s hearts over there.
At that time, East Timor was seen as a dumping ground for errant
bureaucrats. In Timor, without supervision, those petty bureau
chiefs became small kings. They were nepotistic about
recruitment, refusing to hire local people, opting instead to
give jobs to relatives from Java.
December 08-14, 2009
There is not a single reason why the Film Censorship Board
should ban the screening of Balibo at the current Jakarta
International Film Festival. Whether the board realizes it or
not, either on its own initiative or at the behest of a third
party, the board seems to be engaged in a show of strength. This
is not only an unhealthy development for our movie industry, but
also for our democracy. The Film Censorship Board believes that
moviegoers are incapable of independent thought, and need to be
regulated and protected, from confusion or the influence of
The Film Censorship Board specifically views the scene showing
the killing of five foreign journalists during the turmoil at
Balibo, in the early stages of Indonesia’s invasion of Timor
Leste (formerly East Timor), as sadistic. The movie by
Australian director Robert Connolly tells the story of the 1975
incident based on an investigation by Roger East, a journalist
who went to Timor Leste at the invitation of Jose Ramos Horta
(now President of Timor Leste). The Film Censorship Board says
the film’s plot is not based on historical facts and that this
inaccuracy is irresponsible.
But historical facts depend on the person investigating them,
and the outcome of such investigations do not always tell the
whole truth. With an incident shrouded in mystery like a ghost
coming and going, as in the Balibo case, all findings must be
published so their veracity can be proven. The way to test the
truth is not to obstruct anyone from discussing their findings.
In deciding whether to allow controversial films to be screened
or not, the Film Censorship Board should learn from the Catholic
Cinematographic Center, the Vatican body that studies films from
the viewpoint of their morality.
In 1948, the movie Il Miracolo (The Miracle) was released in
Italy. Directed by Roberto Rossellini, an Italian pioneer of
neo-realism, the film attempted to question the issue of
sainthood through Nanni, a young girl. In a drunken stupor, the
village girl is tempted by a vagrant whom she thinks is Saint
Joseph. Nanni then becomes pregnant. She views her pregnancy as
holy, but her fellow villagers scorn her. They taunt her,
physically abuse her and parade her on the streets with a
washbasin on her head. Nanni manages to escape to a church on
top of a hill, whereupon after giving birth, she experiences
Issues relating to sainthood are sensitive to the Church. The
Catholic Cinematographic Center condemned the film, but it did
not ban it. The film was shown at the Venice Film Festival,
known for its unwillingness to screen works judged by the
Vatican to be religiously offensive. The official Vatican
newspaper, Osservatore Romano, published an appreciative review.
It said there were “serious objections from the religion’s
viewpoint,” while highlighting the “undoubted fine quality of
the scenes.” It concluded by saying that “we still believe in
Such open thinking needs to be cultivated, including in our
country. This is freedom to express an opinion, which is
guaranteed in our Constitution, including the right to screen
films, no matter where they come from.
In some countries, films are banned for many reasons—such as
those containing topics on religion and sadism or more
specifically, on incest and pedophilia. But even those reasons
call for cool-headed thinking. An immediate ban does not have to
be the first step.
We must remember that films, whatever they may be depicting, are
entertainment. People must pay to watch them. Therefore the
premise should be simple: if you do not want to watch it, do not
go to the theater and buy a ticket. This also applies to the
Jakarta Film Festival—seats are limited and moviegoers are
automatically selected. Of course, we should not forget that
digital technology now makes it easy for people to find anything
that is inaccessible in their daily lives. This is precisely why
the censorship and the banning is so absurd.
What should be condemned is the knee-jerk reaction by the Film
Censorship Board, which was supported by a number of
organizations and institutions and an unfortunate sign of
extreme intolerance and stupidity. It is wrong from any
viewpoint. Banning is the language of those lacking in common
December 08-14, 2009
Balibo’s No Show
The Indonesian Film Censorship Board banned the screening of
the film Balibo at the 11th Jakarta International Film Festival,
reasoning that the film might reopen old wounds.
THE work area of the Jakarta International Film Festival
(JIFFest) organizers was suddenly filled with journalists. One
after another journalists appeared, asking for confirmation on
the ban and to request a private screening of the Australian
film Balibo. “So many of them have been here,” said Vara, “I’ve
lost track of how many times we’ve shown them the film,” said
Vara, one of the organizers, last Wednesday night. The cellphone
of Lalu Roisamri, director of JIFFest, also did not stop ringing.
The Film Censorship Board (LSF) banned the 111-minute film from
being shown at the Festival. The film is about five foreign
journalists who were killed as they covered the Indonesian
invasion of East Timor in 1975. In one scene, the five
television journalists are being attacked by what is presumably
the Indonesian Military (TNI—whose members in the film speak to
each other in Indonesian) pictured rushing to avoid attacks
during the fighting in Balibo.
Trapped in a house, one of the journalists forces himself to
come out to try to negotiate with the leader of the troops, to
let them go because he and his colleagues are just doing their
jobs as journalists. Bang! His request is ignored and he
receives instead a bullet through the head. A barrage of shots
and torture await the remaining four journalists. Their bodies
are burnt together with their journalistic equipment and film.
This was October of 1975.
Three months later, the film depicts senior journalist Roger
East (played by Anthony Paglia of Without a Trace) being
tortured in Dili. He is tied up and dragged to a field where he
is tortured and shot. Then his body is dumped into the sea. East
was in Dili at that time, invited by Jose Ramos Horta (played by
Oscar Isaac)—the man who would later become the second
President of Timor Leste after its independence from Indonesia in
1999. East was trying to trace the movements of the five journalists
and their disappearance in Balibo.
According to Muchlis Paeni, head of the LSF, the scenes in the
film are extremely sadistic. “We are required to cut out such
scenes because of their violence. It is not so much a political
issue. Even if the film were not about the Balibo incident we
would still be required to censor it,” Muchlis said in his
office last Thursday afternoon. He stressed that such violent
scenes should not be allowed to be shown at a film festival
because they had the potential to reopen old wounds.
He acknowledged that the film directed by Robert Connolly and
produced by Paramount Pictures was interesting, although he
regretted that the information on which it was based was merely
an oral testimony. “It is not based on historical facts whose
accuracy has been proven,” he said.
Jakarta’s former governor, Sutiyoso, supports the decision of
the LSF. “It is a very prejudicial film and extremely dramatic.
Anyone watching it would immediately receive a very negative
impression of the TNI,” he said. When the incidents took place,
Sutiyoso was a captain in the Indonesian Army and participated
in operations in Timor Leste. He was invited by the board last
Thursday to give his opinion of the film.
According to LSF’s Evaluation & Socialization Chairman, Djamalul
Abidin, the ban was in accordance with Government Regulation No.
7/1994 on the Indonesian Censorship Board, Chapter IV relating
to Guidelines and Criteria for Censorship, where it states that
censorship can be implemented, for amongst others, political and
ideological reasons. He said that the board still refers to Law
No. 8/1992 on Films because Law No. 33/2009 still lacks
The LSF has in the past refused to allow the screening of
JIFFest films which depict violence and what it refers to as
“putting the TNI in a corner.” In 2000, the film The Army Force
(an Indonesian production) about the 1998 reform movement and
The Black Road (an American production) about the killing of
members of the Free Aceh Movement produced by freelance
journalist William Nelson who covered Aceh and was later
deported, were banned. In 2006, five films were rejected by the
board namely Passabe, Timor Lorosae, Tales of Crocodile,
Promised Paradise and Simon.
Lalu Roisamri regrets the banning of Balibo. “We still wanted to
screen the film and so a discussion was held,” said Roisamiri
who explained that the parties involved had tried to act fairly
about it. She put in a request to the LSF for a screening and a
limited discussion inviting the TNI, the government, the Foreign
Affairs Department (whose staff reportedly agreed with the ban),
non-governmental institutions and media experts. However, her
efforts appear to have failed.
-- Martha Warta Silaban