By Ben Wilson
José Ramos-Horta, the Independence leader, Nobel peace prize winner, and former President of Timor-Leste, , has praised Australian former spy and whistleblower witness K. He said that the whitstleblower should be awarded the Medal of the Republic, Timor-Leste’s greatest honour.
The request will be put to current President Francisco Guterres and the government.
In the final stages of the battle for independence from Indonesian occupation, Australian came out in the biggest numbers this country has ever seen to show their support. Horta came to Australia and spoke to huge and enthusiastic crowds. It seemed then that our two nations were building a close friendship.
Unfortunately, this was damaged when Howard government turned to putting immense pressure on our small neighbour, to get access to oil and gas deposits in the Timor Sea. Instead of a friend, The Howard government proved to be a bully, prepared to do just about anything to take control over oil and gas in the Timor Sea.
Photo by Davey Heller: Supporters of Witness K and his lawyer Bernard Collaery on Press Freedom Day 16 April 2019
This is the context in which spies were sent to East Timor. Involved in this was an operation in 2004, where the meeting room used by the cabinet of Timor Leste’s government was bugged. The purpose was to find information that could be used to force though a bad deal on the oil and gas.
Witness K was so shaken by the bugging that he felt he had no choice but to speak out. He was subsequently charged and put on trial for exposing the operation. He pleaded guilty and was finally sentenced to a 3-month suspended prison sentence last Friday.
Witness K’s actions helped Timor-Leste bring a case against Australia in the permanent court of arbitration at The Hague.
Much of the trial was conducted in secret. Only a few of the details were made known, on the grounds of national security. This begs the question, how does an act of exposing an illegal and dishonest ac against another nation compromise Australia’s national security?
It was the growing public outcry that pressured the court to let the defendant walk free. It is clear the government’s intention was to make an example of Witness K.
His lawyer Bernard Collaery also faces prosecution.