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Timor-Leste

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Last updated on 05.11.2018 at 05:13

Timor-Leste-Overview

Timor-Leste is one of the world’s newest countries, having gained independence from Indonesia in 1999 and having joined the UN as a member state in 2002.

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Interview: Civil society activist speaks about situation of civic freedoms in Timor-Leste

Interview: Civil society activist speaks about situation of civic freedoms in Timor-Leste

CIVICUS interviews José Luis Sampaio, the Director of Timor-Leste's Judicial System Monitoring Program (JSMP) in Timor-Leste

On 28th September 2018, the CIVICUS Monitor and FORUM-ASIA interviewed human rights defender Luis de Oliveira Sampaio, the Director of Timor-Leste's Judicial System Monitoring Program (JSMP) on the current state of civic freedoms in the country, in particular after the elections. He also speaks about the challenges faced by civil society groups and human rights defenders in Timor-Leste to undertake advocacy and access funding. 

Association

Article 43 of Timor-Leste’s 2002 constitution guarantees the right to freedom of association, provided that the association does not promote violence and is in accordance with the law.

Article 43 of Timor-Leste’s 2002 constitution guarantees the right to freedom of association, provided that the association does not promote violence and is in accordance with the law. A 2005 decree provides for regulation of the non-profit sector and at times since independence the government has provided financial resources to support the development of a nascent civil society. Under the decree, associations must be formed of a minimum of ten people, ensure that they have ‘the necessary means’ to operate and be registered with the state before it acquires a legal personality. Although most civil society organisations can be formed and operated largely without hindrance, the state has kept a closer watch on the sector since independence. The civil society sector has expanded significantly since independence, with the influx of donor funding, although most organisations are still based in the capital Dili. Labour rights, including the right to form a union, are respected in Timor-Leste although rates of unionisation are low.

Peaceful Assembly

Protest rights are explicitly protected in article 42 of Timor-Leste’s constitution, which says that all people ‘are guaranteed the freedom to assemble peacefully and unarmed’ importantly without the need for ‘prior authorization’.

Protest rights are explicitly protected in article 42 of Timor-Leste’s constitution, which says that all people ‘are guaranteed the freedom to assemble peacefully and unarmed’ importantly without the need for ‘prior authorization’. A law passed in 2006 to regulate the freedom of assembly and protest requires organisers to give four days’ advance notice to the police. Article 5 of the law states that protests may not be held within 100 metres of official buildings, official residences, military installations, political party headquarters and key public infrastructure such as airports. Unusually, the law also prohibits demonstrations before 8 am in the morning or after 6.30pm in the evening. The right to protest is largely respected in practice and large-scale demonstrations, such as one opposing Australian encroachment on Timor-Leste’s maritime territory in 2016, are not uncommon on the streets of the capital, Dili. Sometimes, however, security forces have been known to intimidate activists when they seek to protest on sensitive issues, such as the visit by Indonesian president Joko Widodo to Timor-Leste in 2016. Police have also used mass arrests to quell demonstrations they consider ‘illegal’, for instance, a workers protest at which 84 people were arrested in 2012.

Expression

Despite constitutional and legal protections, the right to freedom of expression is not yet fully respected in Timor-Leste.

Despite constitutional and legal protections, the right to freedom of expression is not yet fully respected in Timor-Leste. Structural challenges, a lack of financial independence and political interference limit the media’s ability to be completely impartial, challenge authority and hold elected leaders to account. In recent years, journalists have been victims of physical attacks and persecution through the courts as a result of their reporting on corruption and political issues. Since late 2014, journalists in Timor-Leste have expressed concerns about a new press law which they view as seriously damaging to media freedoms. Specific concerns relate to the process for appointment of members of the press council and unnecessarily restrictive rules for foreign journalists operating in Timor-Leste. The recent use of criminal defamation charges against journalists has also raised questions about Timor-Leste’s commitment to freedom of expression.