East Timor

East Timor, or Timor-Leste, is a small southeast Asian country located on the eastern side of the island of Timor. It was colonised by Portugal, who only granted the island independence after the overthrow of the Salazar dictatorship in the mid-1970s, but with the assent of the US and Australia, Indonesia promptly invaded the island in 1975 and annexed it to their state. In Australia’s case, not only did it give assent, but it also participated in efforts to cover up reports of Indonesian atrocities, lobbied international organisations, and worked directly with the Indonesian government to massage their PR campaign into something credible.

After the fall of the Suharto dictatorship in 1998, a plebiscite was organised to ask East Timorese people if they wanted to remain part of Indonesia. Despite intimidation of voters and confusingly-designed ballot papers, the result of the plebiscite was overwhelmingly in favour of independence. The Indonesian Army reacted with rage and embarked on a spree of ultraviolence across the territory. Australia sent in its own military to try to quell the violence, a war that is generally seen as a “good war” by the mainstream in Australia, even though Australia had its own imperialist motives for going in (i.e. the desire to profit off East Timor’s oil and gas reserves, which ultimately we did after getting East Timor’s post-independence government to sign a very lopsided deal), and even though there have been revelations in recent years about war crimes committed by our own soldiers there.

An anonymous intelligence employee, Witness K, revealed to the public that Australian intelligence officers had bugged the East Timorese Cabinet room in order to gain an advantage, and was prosecuted and criminally convicted for his whistleblowing. Not only that, but his lawyer, former ACT Attorney-General Bernard Collaery, was also being prosecuted until the newly-elected Labor government in 2022 dropped the charges.

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