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Indonesia bans film about 1975 killings

'Balibo' depicts the Indonesian military's reported execution of six foreign journalists in East Timor.

December 07, 2009|By Karima Anjani
  • East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta, right, with Oscar Isaac, who plays him in "Balibo."
East Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta, right, with Oscar Isaac, who… (Footprint Films )

Reporting from Jakarta, Indonesia — The government here has banned a controversial Australian-made film that depicts the Indonesian military's reported 1975 execution of six foreign journalists in East Timor.

Indonesia's film censorship board announced last week that all screenings of the political thriller "Balibo," which documents the killings of the so-called Balibo Five, are forbidden.

The five -- two Australians, two Britons and a New Zealander -- were working for Australian television networks when they were allegedly murdered by Indonesian troops during the 1975 invasion of East Timor. The film is told through the eyes of veteran Australian reporter Roger East, who was also killed shortly after the Balibo Five.

The ban came just hours before the film's Jakarta premiere last week in a private screening that was organized by the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club.

The club suspended its showing, but another journalists group defied the ban Thursday and ran the movie for dozens of viewers.

The ban also forced the Jakarta International Film Festival to cancel screenings of the film, directed by Robert Connolly and starring Emmy winner Anthony LaPaglia.

Indonesian military spokesman Sagom Tamboen was quoted by the national media as welcoming the government's action, saying the film would only hurt many Indonesians and do "irreparable damage to the ties between Indonesia, East Timor and Australia."

Official Indonesian reports say the men were killed by cross-fire Oct. 16, 1975, as Indonesian forces entered East Timor two months before a full invasion. Others say the journalists were filming from inside a 400-year-old fort as Indonesian forces landed in Balibo.

For three decades, successive Australian governments have accepted the Indonesian version of events, but Australian Federal Police officials announced this year that they were opening a war crimes inquiry into the deaths.

Some witnesses have claimed the men were captured and executed.

An Australian coroner's inquest in 2007 heard that Yunus Yosfiah, a former Indonesian minister of information and a member of parliament, was a special forces unit commander at the time and ordered the shootings under instruction from senior officers. He has denied the accusation.

East Timor won independence 10 years ago. An estimated 180,000 people died during the occupation, including 1,000 who the United Nations says were killed during the bloody vote for independence.

The government is "paranoid to think that the film will only open old wounds. . . . People should be able to discuss the matter openly," said Ezki Suyanto, a board member of Indonesia's Independent Journalists Alliance.

Under the country's censorship laws, an individual faces five years in jail and/or a $5,300 fine for each illegal screening.

Anjani is a special correspondent.

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