The World Today - Friday, 6 March , 2009 12:33:00 Reporter: Margie Smithurst
TANYA NOLAN: The case against those charged over the assassination attempts on East Timor's two top leaders a year ago will test the country's young justice system.
One expert on the region says the President Jose Ramos Horta has contaminated the case with his comments about one of the accused, Timorese-Australian citizen Angelita Pires, and his suggestion he may pardon the attackers once the trials are over.
But the East Timorese Government says it has confidence in its justice system.
In Darwin Margie Smithurst reports.
MARGIE SMITHURST: President Jose Ramos Horta spent more than a month in a Darwin hospital last year, seriously wounded after members of Alfredo Reinado's rebel band allegedly shot him outside his house in Dili in February.
Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao narrowly escaped a similar fate.
Twenty-eight people have now been charged in connection with the attempted murders, all ex-soldiers except Timorese-Australian citizen Angelita Pires, the lover of Reinado who died in the gunfight that day in Dili.
International relations policy expert Dr Clinton Fernandes says their trials will be closely watched as a test of transparency for the fledgling East Timorese justice system
CLINTON FERNANDES: It remains to be seen what the defendants lawyers plead at trial. But to my knowledge there have been some contamination of the forensic evidence at the crime scene. But all the forensic evidence, including ballistics evidence, needs to be before courts, and the courts need to allow the media in so that the people of East Timor get to see exactly what the case is.
MARGIE SMITHURST: Dr Fernandes says their trials will be closely watched as a test of transparency for the fledgling East Timorese justice system.
CLINTON FERNANDES: It remains to be seen what the defendants' lawyers plead at trial. But to my knowledge there has been some contamination of the forensic evidence at the crime scenes. But all the forensic evidence, including ballistic evidence needs to be put before the courts and the courts need to allow the media in so that the people of East Timor get to see exactly what the case is.
MARGIE SMITHURST: Dr Fernandes says the Australian Government will also be taking a close interest in the proceedings.
CLINTON FERNANDES: Angelita Pires is a Timorese national as well as an Australian national and clearly the law should be able to apply. But there is, there are going to be many more Australians who travelled to Timor and some of them may also at a later stage be subject to the Timorese judicial process.
The consular obligations definitely need to be met. But remember, Australia is also funding parts of the Timorese justice system and they need to make sure when they fund that that the prosecutor doesn't simply pick cases that suit the Government.
MARGIE SMITHURST: Dr Fernandes says the East Timorese Government has a history of not accepting court rulings it finds unfavourable. He says the Government prejudiced the case from the start.
CLINTON FERNANDES: When the attacks against the Prime Minister and the President occurred the President of the Republic, Jose Ramos Horta, made a number of highly prejudicial statements to the media about Angelita Pires.
In a sense what he has done is contaminated the atmosphere within which the trials will occur. There's been a lot of prejudging of her guilt. And these statements were highly inappropriate from the Head of State.
MARGIE SMITHURST: President Jose Ramos Horta's recent suggestion he may pardon his attackers after the trial is also prejudicial, says Dr Fernandes.
CLINTON FERNANDES: Think of it this way. If Quentin Bryce, our Governor General, were to make statements in advance of a criminal trial saying that she may pardon people who go through the courts, this would be seen as entirely inappropriate and this is precisely what Horta has done.
MARGIE SMITHURST: But the East Timorese Foreign Minister Zacarias da Costa says the Government will leave the case in the hands of the courts.
ZACARIAS DA COSTA: Our justice system is still incipient but we have to respect that. Knowing the fragility of the system, knowing that it's still incipient, we don't want to add more pressure to our justice system. Let our justice system deal with the case and of course there are so many ways to look at this case. But first let's give the courts an opportunity to deal with the case.
TANYA NOLAN: That's East Timor's Foreign Minister Zacarias da Costa with Margie Smithurst.
This is a transcript from The World Today. The program is broadcast around Australia at 12:10pm on ABC Local Radio.
Image added by ETLJB: Dr. Clinton Fernandes