Toeing the Line on Timor


This week The Australian published an opinion piece by Mark Aarons attacking journalist John Martinkus, and New Matilda, for articles we have published on the recent violence in East Timor.

Aarons argues that we are waging an ‘extraordinary campaign’ against East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao to implicate him in the downfall of former East Timorese Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri.

Aarons makes a number of personal attacks on Martinkus which we need not dignify with a response, but what we can address directly is his questioning of two pieces of evidence presented by Martinkus in New Matilda.

Aarons rightly argues that a note written by Gusmao to rebel soldier Alfredo Reinado is not evidence enough to claim that the two ‘were in league to violently overthrow Alkatiri’. We would agree. But that does not make it un-newsworthy.

In fact, Martinkus and New Matilda, presented the letter for what it is: proof of a close relationship between Gusmao and Reinado at the height of the East Timorese crisis — extraordinary if you consider the facts in an Australian context. If John Howard dropped a friendly note to a renegade Australian soldier who had fired on the Australian Defence Force or the Australian Federal Police using stolen weapons, would Aarons suggest journalists ignore it?

There has been no refutation by Gusmao of this close relationship with Reinado.

In a follow-up article for New Matilda last week, Martinkus cited a statement by former police commander Abilio ‘Mausoko’ Mesquita, who is in jail for his role in the violence. In the document which was leaked without Mesquita’s knowledge or permission Mesquita claims that Gusmao himself ordered him to attack the house of the Commander of East Timor’s military, Brigadier Taur Matan Ruak, on 24 and 25 May.

Martinkus stresses that if legitimate, Mesquita’s leaked statement implicates Gusmao in the armed violence in East Timor.

Aarons dismisses the document as ‘absurd’ but offers no evidence as to how he has come to this conclusion. He cites Australian journalist and East Timor correspondent Jill Jolliffe’s claims that the document is ‘demonstrably false’. But Jolliffe has not demonstrated the falsity of the document or its contents.

Aarons also suggests that because other journalists ignored the story, Martinkus and New Matilda should have too. Sounds like pack journalism to us.

What Aarons conveniently ignores in his article and fails to explain are facts uncovered by The Australian‘s own Mark Dodd: that Gusmao paid at least a share of Reinado’s hotel bill during the crisis.

John Martinkus and New Matilda have reported some inconvenient stories about the situation in East Timor without fear or favour. Where appropriate, we have made available the documents that substantiate those stories.

Like Aarons, we eagerly await the report of the International Special Inquiry Commission on the causes of the recent violence in East Timor.

We will continue to present the facts as we uncover them. We would invite our critics to do the same.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.